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U.S. cracks down on lasers pointed at aircraft

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta promised a crackdown Wednesday to prevent “careless people making stupid choices” from putting fliers at risk by pointing lasers in aircraft’s cockpits.
/ Source: Reuters

After a rash of incidents in which lasers flashed aircraft 31 times in the last 10 days, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta promised a crackdown Wednesday to prevent “careless people making stupid choices” from putting fliers at risk.

Pilots, air traffic controllers and law enforcement officials will work together to track down and arrest people who point lasers into aircraft cockpits, and new guidelines will be issued Jan. 19 to find those who target planes, he said.

“We will not allow careless people making stupid choices to put pilots and their passengers at risk,” Mineta said in a speech at a Federal Aviation Administration testing facility in Oklahoma City.

No terrorist link seen
He did not see any link between the recent laser reports and terrorist activities.

“As far as we know, lasers are not the terrorists’ weapon of choice, nor is there any evidence that these incidents are terrorists practicing for use of other weapons, as some people have speculated,” Mineta said.

Under the new guidelines, all pilots will be required to immediately report any laser sightings to air traffic controllers, who will share the reports on a federal network and work with law enforcement to track down those responsible.

Controllers will share information about laser incidents with pilots flying in affected areas, Mineta said.

The lasers involved in these incidents are typically small devices that are readily available, such as laser pointers used in presentations, he said.

Lasers pointed at pilots can disorient and temporarily blind them, as well as lead to permanent eye damage, aviation officials said.

In an incident Tuesday night at the airport in Phoenix, a laser from a building on airport grounds was pointed into a plane’s cockpit, Mineta said.

Last week, a New Jersey man was arrested on suspicion of pointing a laser at a small plane flying near his home. He is suspected of using a device called a “star pointer” that sells for about $120 and can be seen from several miles away.