The FAA’s formal reporting system in 2010 recorded a sharp increase in laser-related incidents at the same time that much more powerful handheld lasers began entering the market at significantly lower price points. The FAA recorded 2,836 laser-related complaints in 2010, which almost doubles the 1,527 incidents reported in 2009. Meanwhile, Class 4 lasers have become more affordable and more portable. One review of a sub-$300 handheld laser that was first made available last year says the device is “capable of blinding and/or burning someone almost instantly.” Shining a laser at a commercial aircraft is a federal crime that can earn an offender up to 20 years in jail per charge and a $250,000 fine. Based on the FAA’s figures, that’s not having the desired effect. And pilots reportedly may now be in danger of more than very temporary vision loss.
Pilots have reported not just temporary effects of laser-induced night blindness, but “damaged retinas after laser beams were aimed at them in flight” according to ABCnews.com. The new range of high-powered handheld lasers are generally green or blue and have the ability to interfere with flight crews at altitude. The FAA says it takes laser incidents very seriously and the FBI has been involved in tracking down suspects. FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko told ABC, “We’ve located some and they’ve been prosecuted.”