OSI takes aim at aircraft laser pointer incidents

Effect of a laser pointed at an aircraft landing at night.
Photo Credit: FAA

The surge in laser pointer incidents aimed at aircraft, particularly Air Force planes, is a concerning trend that poses significant risks to aviation safety.

The Office of Special Investigations (OSI) is actively working to combat this issue, emphasizing the importance of real-time reporting, effective communication, and public awareness.

Laser Pointer Incidents

Laser pointers, commonly associated with classroom presentations or playfully teasing house pets, have increasingly found a new and dangerous application.

Incidents of laser pointers being aimed at aircraft, often referred to as “lazing incidents,” have seen a troubling increase in recent years.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), reported incidents of laser strikes on aircraft rose by 41% in 2021, with the highest numbers on record.

These incidents can disrupt flight operations and create substantial challenges for pilots as well as putting air safety at risk.


A Dangerous Offense

It is imperative for the public to understand that aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is not only dangerous but a felony.

This was emphasized by an official from the OSI Center. The consequences of such actions are severe, both in terms of penalties and the potential dangers they pose.

Real-Time Reporting

To combat the growing threat of laser incidents, OSI officials stress the importance of real-time reporting and rapid response from all agencies and law enforcement, both within the United States and overseas.

Timely reporting is a key strategy in addressing these incidents, as it allows for swift action to be taken.

Individuals who engage in such dangerous activities may face substantial fines, with penalties reaching up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.

Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also possesses the authority to impose civil penalties. These fines can escalate to $11,000 per violation and reach as high as $30,800 for multiple incidents.

Efficient communication between pilots, command posts, OSI, and local law enforcement is critical for responding to these incidents effectively.

Reporting an incident is only the first step; what makes it actionable is the pilot’s ability to provide precise information, including the geographical coordinates from which the laser originated.

Blinding Effects

The impact of a laser beam on pilots can be likened to a camera flash going off in a pitch-black car at night. This results in sudden disorientation and temporary blindness.

The risk is particularly heightened during critical phases of flight, potentially leading to the loss of aircraft and crew, thereby endangering lives both in the air and on the ground.

OSI Center officials stress that these incidents are far from harmless pranks. Misusing lasers can result in permanent visual impairment, severely affecting a person’s ability to see and function. It is crucial for the public to realize the gravity of these actions.

Alarming Statistics

According to the FAA, the United States has experienced a notable surge in reported laser incidents, with 2021 witnessing a 41% increase in aircraft laser strikes compared to the previous year.

Since 2010, a total of 244 injuries have been reported, underscoring the escalating and pervasive threat. The nearly 9,500 laser strikes reported to the FAA in 2022 highlight the severity of this growing concern.

OSI Center officials stress the significance of public awareness and reporting. They encourage individuals who witness such incidents to provide detailed descriptions of the individual, location, and event.

It is crucial to report these incidents to both local law enforcement and OSI, irrespective of whether the aircraft is military or civilian.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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