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House Criminalizes Laser Pointing at Aircraft

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — Those who knowingly aim laser pointers at aircraft will be charged with committing a federal crime subject to up to five years in prison under legislation passed by the House of Representatives.

The Securing Cockpits Against Laser Pointer Act was passed in response to the growing number of incidents of pilots being distracted or, in some cases, even temporarily blinded by laser beams. The Senate passed the same provision a month ago as an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration spending bill, but now the two chambers must agree on a common format to send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

As handheld laser pointers have become stronger and more affordable, incidents have become more common. The FAA reported that the number of cases of people pointing lasers at planes and helicopters jumped from 1527 in 2009 to 2836 in 2010.

“The risk associated with laser illuminations is unacceptable,” said Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. “Pointing lasers at aircraft in flight poses a serious safety risk to the traveling public.” He urged the government, besides passing legislation, to restrict the sale of high-power portable lasers and to increase the size of laser-free zones around airports.

Federal law already allows charges to be brought against those seeking to destroy an aircraft, but the law requires the government to prove willful intent to endanger a pilot. That can be difficult in the case of laser pointers, where some users may have malicious intent but others may be laser enthusiasts who don’t realize the harm that long-range laser beams can cause.

“Mr. Speaker, the danger from shining a laser into the cockpit of any aircraft is truly a tragedy waiting to happen. The ominous prospect of a catastrophe is particularly high during the takeoff and landing stages. Emergency maneuvers to prevent the misperception of midair collisions have also occurred,” said US Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, R-Calif., addressing the House. “In one instance, the pilot thought he was about to strike the warning light on a tower. In another case, the laser beam was thought to be the lights of an approaching aircraft.

“It is not only the number of laser pointers being aimed at aircraft cockpits that has dramatically increased during the past several years. The power of the current generation of laser-pointer devices has also significantly increased. Their cost, on the other hand, has gone down, making them much more widely available,” Lungren said.

For more information, visit:  www.house.gov 


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