House passes stiff penalties for pointing lasers at aircraft

December 13, 2005

House passes stiff penalties for pointing lasers at aircraft

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would carry a $250,000 fine and a possible five-year prison term for people who point lasers at aircraft.

Sponsored by Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), H.R.1400 would patch a hole in federal law where there currently is no prohibition against pointing laser beams at aircraft. Laser beams can temporarily blind pilots and, in some reported cases, cause permanent damage to the eyes. The House passed the bill last Thursday by voice vote, and it is now headed for the Senate.

"Small laser devices have become more readily available in recent years, and we've seen a sharp increase in the number of incidents," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "We're certainly glad to see legislation that would help protect pilots."

FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nick Sabatini testified in March that there have been more than 400 reported laser incidents since 1990. And because of a recent spike, the FAA has established a reporting system to track the trend.

On January 11, 2005, the FAA issued a four-page advisory circular outlining the actions pilots can take if they've been illuminated. The detailed instructions include a recommendation to contact air traffic control or broadcast the event over unicom to alert other pilots. The FAA also requests that pilots note the time, altitude, color of the laser, originating direction and position, and any other information that may be helpful, including GPS coordinates.

For more information, see AOPA's air traffic services brief, " Lasers and General Aviation."

Updated December 14, 2005