Laser strikes on planes increase, put pilots and passengers in danger

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 6:36 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates has a warning from the FBI on the danger of laser strikes blinding pilots on airplanes and helicopters.

The FAA reports they continue to increase, even in 2020 when less pilots were flying due to the pandemic.

Laser strikes can put you, the passenger, at risk.

Laser strikes on airplanes and helicopters are serious and can be deadly for pilots and their passengers, whether the people behind them are playing around or causing intentional harm.

“When you shine it up at an airplane or a helicopter, it actually expands. So that little tiny point on the ground that you’re seeing, when it gets into that cockpit, it can expand up to six feet. So it completely blinds a co-pilot and pilot. So it can be very, very dangerous,” said FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson-Gregg with the Cleveland field office.

She said in the Cleveland area, they sometimes see clusters of these laser attacks happen at the same time.

Otherwise they usually see one every few weeks over our skies.

“We have pilots say they see flashes of light afterwards, some become completely disoriented and a lot of times these are happening around airports. So they’re coming in for landings and it can be very, very dangerous,” she said.

Laser strike (Source: WOIO)
Laser strike (Source: WOIO)

19 Investigates found the FAA reported 6,852 laser strikes nationwide in 2020, up from 6,136 laser strikes in 2019.

That’s the highest reported number of incidents since 2016.

We discovered Ohio is 16th in the nation for laser strikes over the last 10 years.

There have been 1,186 laser strikes from 2010 to 2020.

Aiming a laser at an aircraft violates federal law, and that’s where the FBI comes in.

Agents question people in the area where it happened to find out if someone is doing this maliciously.

“When the pilots get hit with one of these lasers, they’re able to pinpoint their coordinates of where they were. They’re able to report that to law enforcement and we take it seriously, because it can have awful consequences,” Anderson-Gregg said.

The FAA said there have been nearly 200 reports by flight crews of injuries from laser strikes in the past 10 years.

They urge pilots to report them as soon as possible so they can track the suspects down.

You can get fined up to $11,000 from the FAA for each violation.

The agency has imposed civil penalties up to $30,000 against people for multiple laser strikes.

You can read more from the Federal Aviation Administration on laser safety here.

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