The FAA has launched a page on its website to allow laser-pointing incidents to be reported online. Although penalties for shining a handheld laser at an aircraft have been beefed up (fines can be as high as $11,000) the number of reported incidents continues to climb. As of this month, there were about 2,800 reported incidents. Although there have been no reported crashes directly attributable to laser pointing, the FAA says it's serious business that warrants a serious response. "Lasers can distract or temporarily blind pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destinations and could compromise the safety of hundreds of passengers," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told delegates to an Airline Pilots Association-sponsored conference on the topic last week.
Phoenix appears to be the most popular place for laser target practice (96 incidents) followed by Philadelphia (95) and Chicago (83). Although lasers are regulated to some degree, high-powered pointers capable of causing eye irritation or damage at long distances are readily available, often under the guise of scientific use. There are some legitimate, although perhaps ill-advised, reasons to point a laser at the sky. Amateur astronomers use them to help them aim their telescopes.