AOPA's position on laser light shows

November 11, 2009

AOPA’s position on laser light shows

Years of direct involvement in this issue point to the inevitable conclusion that laser light shows and airport environments do not mix. For example, Las Vegas, Nevada, had a laser light show problem that quickly grew from a few isolated displays to an unmanageable number. The Las Vegas Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) recorded 51 incidents between October 1993 and October 1995 involving pilots who were irradiated by laser beams. This count did not include the numerous laser incidents that had been reported by the Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, or “Flight for Life” helicopters that operate in the Las Vegas area. Finally, in December 1995 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in response to the serious safety concerns of the aviation industry, issued a moratorium on laser light shows in Las Vegas.

This is not an isolated problem. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), there have been incidents involving lasers in California, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The circumstances of the laser encounters ranged from various levels of crewmember annoyance to startle and flash blindness. Laser light shows that encroach on airports have a serious impact on safety.

On February 26, 1997, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in response to the growing laser light show problem, issued a safety recommendation that directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expedite the development of strict guidelines to be used when approving the location and use of laser beams. The FAA subsequently adopted the NTSB recommendation and issued recommended interim guidelines (RIGS) that pertain to laser activities in airspace. The RIGS were developed in agreement with the Society of Automotive Engineers Laser Hazards Committee, the FDA, the Department of Defense, aviation interest groups, and the laser industry. These RIGS will be incorporated into FAA Order 7400.2D, Procedures for Handling Airspace Matters.

The RIGS state, in part, that laser projections in proximity to airports are of primary concern. The RIGS establish airspace zones that are defined as laser free, critical, sensitive, and high visual cockpit-workload areas. The Bader Field laser light show falls within the laser free zone, and for this reason, AOPA is opposed to this laser location.

As you know, AOPA’s charter is to serve the interest of its members as general aviation aircraft owners and pilots. Our membership includes pilots who also have interest in competing industries, such as the entertainment industry, but we do not purport to represent their interests as commercial entities. AOPA has been very clear in its correspondence that we are not opposed to laser light shows in general; what we are opposed to are laser light shows in extreme proximity to public-use airports. On behalf of our general membership population we are concerned about any non-compatible land use around an airport and to this extent have publicly opposed the laser light show in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Prepared by:

Melissa K. Bailey
Director
Airspace and System Standards
Regulatory Policy

November 13, 1997