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New Technology May Help Convict Laser Attackers

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Even as the number of laser attacks on aircraft has shot up, convictions of the accused have been difficult to achieve. Now, as reported by Phys.org, new, reasonably priced technology may help. In 2006, 384 laser attacks on flight crews were reported—that number shot up to 3482 in 2012 and, while all data has not collected for 2013, the number is expected to be above 4000. Supervisory Air Marshall George Johnson, currently seconded to the FBI, stated that a lack of basic knowledge regarding the nature and level of danger of lasers to flight crews has made it difficult for prosecutors to succeed in criminal actions. The tide may be turning as a result of a request by attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California to Joshua Hadler of the Physical Measures Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology for help in prosecuting two defendants in a laser attack on a police helicopter in Fresno, Calif.

Hadler put together a team that researched the intensity and effect of laser pointer devices. They randomly purchased 112 laser pointers. In tests, the team found that 90 percent of green and 44 percent of red laser pointers exceeded the maximum energy output of five milliwatts allowed by federal regulations—some by as much as ten times. The team also developed a testing device that can be built with off-the-shelf parts for under $2000 and can measure the properties of a handheld laser and allow a calculation of the exposure to an aircraft at the time of the attack. For example, 100 microwatts per square centimeter can result in flash blindness that will probably last for minutes. The hard data helps prosecutors understand and then explain to a judge and jury the intensity and danger of a laser attack on an aircraft. In the Fresno case, the research by Hadler and his team and the device it developed helped convict the defendants.

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