No Apparent Slowdown Seen In Laser Strikes On Aircraft

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Incidents involving lasers illegally aimed at aircraft increased by 41 percent last year over 2020. Pilots reported a total of 9,723 laser incidents in 2021, according to an FAA report. Over and above the danger of temporary incapacitation that could result in an accident, pilots have reported 244 laser-related injuries since 2010 when the FAA began recording laser strikes.

The FAA can fine perpetrators of laser attacks on aircraft up to $11,000 per violation and as much as $30,800 in total for multiple incidents. Violators are also subject to criminal penalties—potentially involving jail time—from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The FAA issued fines for laser strikes totaling $120,000 last year.

There’s a link on the FAA website for the public to report laser strikes to the agency, as well as to state, county and local law enforcement. The FAA has also developed a visualization tool for identifying trends in illegal use of lasers. The platform shows laser-strike data starting with 2010 and running through 2021 to illustrate trends by geographic area, per capita data, time of day, and year. The FAA website also offers per-year data on laser strikes on its website.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. I have the perfect solution; fight ‘fire’ with ‘fire.’ Get the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser testbed out of storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, tweak it a bit, turn down the power and just fly it around any areas of “trends” in laser strikes. When it detects a strike, it’ll automatically aim and melt the perps. It won’t take long for the word to get out that if you do this, you might be a puddle of protoplasm someplace. Obviously, an extreme reaction but fines and talking nice sure isn’t getting anyone’s attention. It’d be a great test of a ‘sleeping’ asset, too.

    See: wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_YAL-1

  2. This is right up there with drones as a problem where enforcement is quite difficult. So the talk of fines, etc. just isn’t credible. Unfortunately, this is going to require some real time monitoring capacity with imaging sufficiently precise to support prosecutions, and there probably needs to be prison time involved so that when authorities do catch someone, which probably won’t happen often, the consequences are severe. This needs to stop.

    • Yep.

      I was lased once while on an IFR flight returning home (it was VMC, but I often file IFR on long flights for the guaranteed services and for keeping up my IFR procedures). It was something I had never experienced before and couldn’t quite believe it was happening, so the only thing I could think of was just to report it to ATC. If I had thought about it further (and I did as I continued on home), I would have flown a 360 over the location to identify the exact house so ATC could relay that to law enforcement.

      But at least with lasers, you can generally follow it back to the source and visually identify the source. That’s not the case with drones, which makes enforcement of them even more difficult.

  3. While we all recognize there’s some “vandalism” and “…because I can get away with it.” out there, in addition to those who do it because they’re “green” or don’t like the noise, I wonder how much of the increase might be because people are fed up with the way airlines treat them and the mandates currently in place. I’m a retired airline pilot and won’t fly domestically, and won’t even fly internationally if I must wear a mask for eight to 10 hours.

  4. I don’t think this is coordinated. Just like all other copycat phenomena propagated by social media/internet crap.

    Correlate laser purchases data with the data they already have of where the strikes are coming from. Make some good visible arrests with some real fed jail time and fines.

    That should drop the rate down significantly.