Pilots are being asked to help law enforcement agencies track down individuals who shine lasers into aircraft cockpits. In a January 12 announcement, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta urged pilots to comply with the recommendations of a new advisory circular dealing with laser incidents.
AC 70-2 recommends that pilots immediately report any laser incidents to air traffic controllers or, at nontowered airports, over the local unicom frequency. ATC will notify other pilots in the immediate vicinity through ATIS broadcasts and pass the information to law enforcement authorities.
Oddly enough, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is currently evaluating the use of lasers to visually alert pilots who violate the security-restricted airspace around Washington, D.C. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is aware of this research and the need to protect pilots.
"Ensuring the safety of all pilots should be the top priority of government agencies when it comes to regulating the use of lasers," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We don't know how serious the threat posed by lasers is, but because general aviation aircraft generally operate at lower altitudes, they may be at greater risk from some of the high-powered lasers on the market today."
In Wednesday's announcement, Mineta explained that the new procedures for reporting laser incidents will give police more timely and detailed information, like GPS coordinates, that they can use to help identify and prosecute those who are shining lasers at airplanes.
"Shining these lasers at an airplane is not a harmless prank. It is stupid and dangerous," said Mineta. "You are putting other people at risk, and law enforcement authorities are going to seek you out, and if they catch you, they are going to prosecute you."
Pilots who believe that a laser is being shined into their cockpit are urged to avoid looking directly at it to avoid possible temporary blindness or even permanent eye damage. According to the DOT, there have been 31 reported laser incidents involving aircraft since December 23, and more than 400 since 1990. There is no indication that any of these incidents has been terrorist related; more likely they are the result of carelessness on the part of individuals using commercially available lasers, according to the DOT.
An AOPA issue brief available online provides more background about the possible impact of laser incidents on general aviation pilots.
January 13, 2005