FAA to Issue Civil Penalties for Laser Pointing

The maximum penalty for a single act is $11,000. Bills pending in Congress also would criminalize purposefully aiming a laser at an aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration will issue civil penalties to anyone who points a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt announced June 1. "Our top priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public. We will not hesitate to take tough action against anyone who threatens the safety of our passengers, pilots, and air transportation system," LaHood said.

"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke. These lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to safely land the aircraft, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and people on the ground," added Babbitt.

FAA released a legal interpretation that states directing a laser beam into an aircraft cockpit could interfere with a flight crew performance of its duties while operating an aircraft, which is a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. The maximum civil penalty the FAA can impose on an individual for interfering with a flight crew is $11,000 per violation.

The agency said pilots have reported more than 1,100 incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft nationwide this year, and these acts have steadily increased since FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots -- from nearly 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.

The highest number of reported laser events for a single airport in 2010 came from Los Angeles International Airport, with 102 reports; there were 201 for the greater Los Angeles area during the year. Chicago O'Hare International Airport was second with 98 reports, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for third with 80 each. The Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth areas have recorded more than 45 laser events each in 2011, while the Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston areas have recorded more than 30 each.

Stronger power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes are one factor, along with the introduction of green lasers, which are easier to see than red lasers, according to FAA. Some cities and states have laws in effect making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft. FAA said it is prepared to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to assist with criminal prosecutions under those laws. Bills to criminalize purposefully aiming a laser device at an aircraft are pending at this time in both houses of Congress.

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