It may soon be a federal crime to point a laser at an airplane. The House passed the Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011 on Monday (PDF) and it calls for prison sentences of up to five years and fines. The Senate included an identical provision in its FAA reauthorization bill. A combined bill has to be drafted for presidential approval. The House bill was championed by California Republican Dan Lungren who noted that up until 2005 there had been less than 400 laser incidents in the previous 15 years. Last year, the FAA received 2,836 reports of laser pointing. Not all people pointing lasers at the sky are targeting aircraft, however.
After AVweb carried a story on the topic in January, amateur astronomers wrote to let us know they use lasers to aim their telescopes. However it's probably safe to assume that most of the laser incidents are pranks or malicious and that's what the law is aimed at. The practice is particularly worrisome to law enforcement agencies because if their aircraft are illuminated by a laser the pilots have to assume they're being sighted in by a rifle on the ground and break off from whatever they're doing.