msnbc News   |  January 20, 2011

Blinded by the light

More than 2,800 incidents of lasers being pointed at airplane cockpits were reported in 2010, a tenfold increase from 2005. MSNBC's Chris Jansing spoke with aviation writer Christine Negroni about the problem.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> it's a potential threat for anyone that goes on a plane. put yourself in a pilot's position. you're about to land in 80-ton passenger jet when a blinding beam of green light shoots into the cockpit. federal officials say it's happening more than ever. people are buying lasers online and aiming them directly at aircraft. there were more than 2,800 recorded incidents last year, nearly double the number from 2009 . ten times higher than back in 2005 . christine is an aviation writer and author of the blog "flying lessons." we have a small version of this laser here, but what are people doing with them?

>> well, they are using them to scan the skies or try and do some target practice because laserests are quite enthusiastic about building lasers, enhancing the capability of lasers and then getting, you know, sort of testing to see exactly what the range and what their accuracy on focusing the lasers is. that, you know, that maybe explains some of the behavior.

>> but some people now are actually aiming them into cockpits.

>> no, you can't aim a laser into the cockpit. the cockpit is above the laser . you can't, light won't make that curve. you can only hit the bottom. here's the important thing to know about the laser . if you point it or make it --

>> i want to show -- this is our little demonstration with powder. give you a sense, see the laser there. could you see it through the powder?

>> see how narrow that is? do you see how narrow that beam is. people out there in tv land say how could that possibly affect a pilot. here's what happens. it's a narrow beam here on the desk but for every 1,000 feet of altitude it defuses and they could go on forever, as you know. you're talking about a light that is a pinpoint here but at 2,000 feet or 3,000 feet when the pilot is bringing the plane in, it's a glow. the cockpit is darkened, the instruments are illuminated and all of a sudden a big wash of green light . it's not going to blind any pilots, it's not that. but very well cause an airplane crash .

>> i'm bringing evan in. you said you had seen some chatter on al qaeda websites about this.

>> just within the past few days. if you're looking for a very simple plot or plan to disrupt aviation, why use a bomb when you can use a laser , a handheld laser and that's exactly what they're suggesting people should do and they're broadcasting this out and one reason they're broadcasting it out is because people have seen the news reports suggesting that this is interfering with aviation.

>> how worried is the faa?

>> i don't believe the faa is thinking that there is a mu nevolent act. i agree with evan, i do not, for a minute, doubt that there is the whole point of terrorism, the whole point is to get people scared. it doesn't have to bring down an airplane, but it gets people scared. almost 3,000 in 2010 , that's a big increase. but, are there lots and lots of folks trying to bring down airplanes? no. i think it's about the laserist, not the airplane.