Laser Pointers vs USAF: The Battle for Aircraft Safety Intensifies

Laser Pointers vs USAF: The Battle for Aircraft Safety Intensifies
Laser pointers aimed at aircraft — military, commercial or general aviation — can be a major safety hazard. (Photo courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration.)

Introduction:

In recent times, the US Office of Special Investigations (OSI) has found itself on the front lines of a concerning battle against laser pointer incidents, which have emerged as a significant threat to US Air Force aircraft, particularly during nighttime operations. These seemingly innocuous devices, often used for presentations or play, now pose a serious risk to flight operations, creating challenges for pilots and potentially endangering lives on the ground.

The Rising Threat:

Referred to as “lazing incidents” by OSI officials, the act of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is not only dangerous but also a felony. The impact of a laser beam on pilots is likened to a camera flash in a pitch-black car at night, causing sudden disorientation and temporary blindness. This risk is most severe during critical phases of flight, potentially leading to the loss of aircraft and crew.

The Alarming Statistics:

According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), reported laser incidents have seen a sharp increase. In 2021, there was a staggering 41% surge in aircraft laser strikes compared to the previous year. Since 2010, a total of 244 injuries have been reported, highlighting the escalating threat. In 2022 alone, there were nearly 9,500 laser strikes reported to the FAA, underscoring the severity of this growing concern.

A Call for Action:

In response to this surge, pilots are now being trained to react swiftly by averting their gaze from the laser source, using their instruments, and promptly informing air traffic control about specific details, including the approximate location of the culprit.

The Legal Consequences:

The US Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011 ensures that those responsible for laser attacks face serious penalties, including a five-year prison sentence and fines ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. These penalties highlight the gravity of such offenses and the determination to combat this rising threat.

International Concerns:

The US military has become increasingly concerned about the potential disruption caused by laser strikes on aircraft. In 2015, China was reported to be developing “blinding laser weapons,” signaling a broader international issue surrounding laser safety.

In May 2018, an incident at Camp Lemonnier base in Djibouti resulted in injuries to the flight crew of a USAF C-130 Hercules. This prompted the Pentagon to issue a notice to airmen in the area, and the US government publicly filed a diplomatic complaint, accusing Chinese personnel stationed in Djibouti of involvement in the incident.

Conclusion:

The surge in laser pointer incidents is a serious concern for the US Air Force and aviation safety at large. Efforts by OSI and other agencies to combat this threat are crucial in safeguarding both aircraft and personnel. Increased public awareness, reporting, and strict legal penalties serve as essential tools in this battle against a growing menace to aviation security.

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