In 2012, in the United States alone, there were over 3,000 reported lasing incidents, whereby lasers were pointed directly into aircraft flight decks, compromising the vision of the pilots and the safety of the flight. Such lasing can be the result either of accidental misuse of lasers and ignorance, or of criminal intent. Jeffrey C. Price and Jeffrey S. Forest look at some recent incidents and discuss the best strategies for deterrence.
In the 1950s, laser technology was born from scientists seeking to produce higher energy light beams that could be applied to research and development. Their use in presentations is ubiquitous and they have been applied to numerous military and commercial applications. Of prime concern to aviation is that laser technology, used improperly or by those wishing to cause harm, can pose a serious threat to the safety of aircraft and airport operations.
Laser emitting devices emit electromagnetic waves that are of a nearly pure, single frequency resulting in an intense light beam consisting of waves all working in unison, and emitting a single colour. The term ’laser’ is an acronym for ‘Light wave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’ – ergo, a concentrated beam of high energy light. Laser beams directly pointed into the eyes of pilots or ground personnel can cause momentary blindness and may lead to permanent damage to vision. Commercially available lasers do not present a threat to the aircraft skin or its avionics. There are larger military grade lasers that are intended to do damage to a plane, but many of these weapons are still in development and secure from the public. The following are examples of incidents with lasers that have affected pilot actions, safety to property and people, and general flight operations:
Glenn Stephen Hansen of Saint Cloud, Florida was arrested for pointing a laser beam at aircraft as they departed Orlando International Airport in 2012. Hansen was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison. According to law enforcement reports, Hansen aimed laser beams at passenger aircraft on at least 23 separate occasions over a three month period.
In 2012, Michael Cerise of Phoenix, Arizona was sentenced to 90 days in jail for pointing an active laser at two commercial aircraft and a police helicopter. In these cases, three pilots suffered minor injuries.
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