Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As incidents rise, FBI to crack down on those targeting aircraft with laser pointers

Despite what some think, pointing a laser pointer at someone's eyes -- in particular airline pilots -- is not a harmless prank. While no laser strike has been known to cause a pilot to crash an aircraft -- yet -- a direct heat can burn the cornea, and as the FBI noted on Tuesday, has put pilots in the hospital.

In fact, as of December 2013, the FAA has documented at least 35 incidents in which pilots required medical attention following a laser strike.

With that, the FBI is upping the ante. For the next two months, FBI field offices in 11 U.S. cities -- Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C., along with the office in San Juan, P.R., are offering up to $10,000 for information leading to arrests.

These are all cities where laser pointer attacks are common.   The new initiative includes a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of “lasing.”

Los Angeles airports led the nation with a regional total of 147 laser strike reports; Houston was third with 126 reports. Portland, Ore., was second in the nation with 139 laser strike reports, but was not included.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 3,960 such strikes reported in 2013. That amounts to nearly 11 a day, and is up significantly, from 283 in 2005.

George Johnson, a federal air marshal who serves as a liaison officer with the FBI on laser issues, said:
Laser pointers are legal and certainly have legitimate uses. Used in the wrong environment, however, they can be very dangerous.

We hope that more public awareness about this issue will lower the instances of laser strikes. We also want to encourage people to come forward when they see someone committing this felony -- one that could have terrible consequences for pilots and their passengers.
The embedded video shows an arrest in the case of such an incident. Perpetrators face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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