WEST TRENTON– Pilots, law enforcement and prosecutors converged on the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC) on Wednesday to talk about the dangers of laser strikes to the cockpits of aircraft. A new public service announcement was also previewed, which portrayed how using a laser to target an aircraft is a crime and is “No Laughing Matter.”
The problem is growing across the country as more powerful lasers become easier to purchase. Even an inexpensive novelty laser can cause serious problems to pilots of aircraft. Captain Robert Hamilton, of the Airline Pilots Association discussed the dangers of a laser strike from his perspective in the cockpit. Many pilots have suffered temporary vision loss due to flash blindness and after images. Laser illuminations can distract, disorient and debilitate a pilot, endangering both crew and passengers.
Michael B. Ward, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Newark Office spoke about laser incidents as a crime that is investigated by law enforcement from the local to the federal level. Under 18 USC 39 (a), whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined or imprisoned up to five years, or both. Under 49 USC Section 46301 (a)(5)(A), the FAA may seek a substantial civil fine for aiming a laser at an aircraft in violation of C.F.R. Section 91.11.
Police and rescue helicopters are also affected by laser strikes. State Police and pilots with the U.S. Coast Guard often fly at low altitudes and rely on their eyesight to spot victims and land at non-traditional sites. Lasers can cause pilots to abort rescue missions, or endanger people on the ground.
“Hitting an aircraft with a laser is not like a video game where you can start over at will. If you are caught, you will be arrested and prosecuted for this dangerous action that puts others at risk,” said Lt. Colonel Matthew Wilson, Deputy Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Partners at Wednesday’s event showed a video clip that demonstrated how a laser strike can appear through an aircraft windshield and reflect off objects in the cockpit. They also played the new audio PSA called “No Laughing Matter” in which two men target a passing jet with a handheld laser.
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