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FAA reports record number of laser strikes on aircrafts

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Posted at 10:18 AM, Feb 08, 2022

CLEVELAND — The Federal Aviation Administration released new figures that show a spike in laser strikes against aircrafts.

The new data comes just a week after four airline flights were hit by a laser near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. All four planes landed safely.

Pilots reported a record 9,723 incidents of lasers aimed at aircraft in 2021, a 41% jump from the year before. There were 6,853 incidents reported in 2020.

“When I got hit, the entire cockpit just lit up. The windscreen and the windows. Everything it could be reflected off just lit up and temporarily blinded me from the outside,” said AirTracker 5 Pilot Derek Wiltse.

The FAA said pilots have reported 244 injuries from laser strikes since the agency began keeping figures in 2010.

The number of laser incidents topped 1,000 in 2009 and has been rising most years ever since. Authorities say the problem is made worse by the availability of cheap laser pointers and devices getting more powerful.

“Even a split second with the right type of light can take away your night vision,” Wiltse said. “If you go blind from the outside for even a couple seconds that could be bad news.”

The number of incidents reported in the last five years includes:

  • 2020—6,852
  • 2019—6,136
  • 2018—5,663
  • 2017—6,754
  • 2016— 7,398

The FAA works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to pursue civil and criminal penalties against people who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime. Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts pose a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers.

The FAA issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021. Fines can range from $11,000 - $30,800 for multiple violations. Violators can face federal criminal charges and up to five years in jail.

To minimize risk, pilots and crewmembers should report laser incidents as soon as possible.

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