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News: Statistics, laws and all other laser pointer news
This webpage has a chronological list of general laser pointer news. There are separate pages for specific aviation-related incidents and non-aviation-related incidents. In addition, the What’s new at the website page lists major changes, updates, and additions to LaserPointerSafety.com.
We sometimes add older news items; since the list is chronological, items new to this page won’t always appear at the top. You may want to scroll down to see if there are new items since the last time you visited.
The chart below shows cumulative laser illuminations for the period Jan. 1 - April 29, for each of the past 10 years. The blue 2017 line shows that thus far there have been fewer incidents in 2017 than in 2016, but more than in 2015.
How to read this chart: Each year starts with 0 illumination reports. Each colored line then plots the cumulative (year-to-date) illumination reports for that year since January 1. For example, looking at the 2016 top green line, there were about 1000 reports between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 (where the green 2016 line crosses the 1000 horizontal line). In contrast, in 2013 (purple line) there were roughly 500 reports between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 (where the purple 2013 line crosses the 500 horizontal line).
Based on historical data, LaserPointerSafety.com projects that there will be around 7,200 laser illuminations reported to the FAA in 2017. This would be about 4% lower than the 7,442 reports in 2016, and about 7% lower than the 7,703 reports in 2015.
A separate analysis shows the number of laser illuminations for every single day between Jan. 1 2007 and April 29 2017.
In the chart below, the light blue line shows each day’s illumination reports. This number can vary widely from one day to the next. The dark blue line is a 60-day moving average; this helps smooth out the data in order to show longer-term trends.
From this chart, it can be seen that illumination reports grew slowly, or even declined, in the first few months of 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, in the final months of 2015 and 2016, the number of illumination reports picked up significantly. The estimate above (that there will probably be around 7,200 reports in 2017) takes this effect into account.
Statistical note: The careful reader will see that the 2017 blue line in the first chart falls between the 2016 and 2015 lines. Yet LaserPointerSafety.com predicts 2017 as a whole (Jan-Dec) will be lower than both 2016 and 2015. This is because we used all ten years, 2007-2016, to estimate the year-end total as a proportion of the first four months. Both a simple average of these ten years, and a weighted average — where more recent years have a larger effect — indicate that the 2017 total will be in the ballpark of 7,200 illuminations. In other words, 2015 was an atypical year where illuminations in the last eight months of the year grew much faster than any other year.
The editorial notes that in the late 2000s, New Jersey beachfront cities had problems with widespread laser sales — followed by widespread misuse. Ocean City NJ banned laser sales and possession in the summer of 2010, as did another Jersey Shore city, North Wildwood, a few years later.
The paper wrote “Apparently, coverage of the incidents and bans was enough to spread the word that pointing lasers at aircraft is dangerous and illegal, as incidents in the area greatly diminished.”
The editorial then noted that despite this local decrease, there are “still about 7,000 reports of lasers aimed at aircraft each year [in the U.S.].”
The article concluded with the suggestion to “[r]equire a warning about the five years in prison and $250,000 fine on every laser for sale (on the packaging or on a handout to the buyer).”
From the Press of Atlantic City
The bill was introduced February 27 2017 after a number of laser pointer incidents in the state.
Although there is a similar federal law (5 years in federal prison and fine up to $250,000), the legislators who introduced the Michigan bill said the state can now prosecute, whether or not federal officials choose to prosecute. Prior to passage of the law, state or local law enforcement could not arrest laser perpetrators unless they committed a separate offense under state or local law.
The bill makes it illegal to intentionally aim “a beam of directed energy emitted from a directed energy device at an aircraft or into the path of an aircraft or a moving train.” The bill defines “directed energy device” as “any device that emits highly focused energy and is capable of transferring that energy to a target to damage or interfere with its operation. The energy from a directed energy device would include the following forms of energy:
-- Electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency, microwave, lasers, and masers.
-- Particles with mass, in particle-beam weapons and devices.
-- Sound, in sonic weapons and devices.”
As with the federal law, there are exceptions in the bill for FAA and DOD authorized users, and for persons using a laser emergency signaling device to send an emergency distress signal.
There were actually two bills introduced by Republican state representatives Laura Cox and Tom Barrett. House Bill 4063 made it a crime to aim directed energy at aircraft or a moving train. HB 4064 also adds the laser provisions to sentencing guidelines.
HB 4063 originally passed the House March 16 2017 by a vote of 107-1. An amended version passed the Senate April 25, 111-37 and passed the House May 2, 105-2. It was sent to the Governor on May 4.
From the Detroit News (March 16 story, May 2 story), U.S. News and World Report, and the Michigan legislature website page for HB 4063.
Michael Reeves’ tongue-in-cheek narration states “…it’s really doing its job of lasering me in the eye which is the real innovation here. To my pleasant surprise I found that this machine also solved another of society's problems; the fact that you're not seeing little tiny dots in your vision all day long. I know where to go when I wanted to see little dots, now I can't focus on anything.”
The laser in the video looks substantially more powerful than the U.S. FDA limit of 5 milliwatts. (However, it can be difficult to estimate laser power from a video. For example, the camera may be more red-sensitive than human eyes which might explain why the beam seems so large and bright.)
Anyone doing this should be aware of the problem of laser pointers often being more powerful than the label states, and more powerful than the U.S. limit of 5 mW.
Fortunately for Reeves’ vision, the laser is mechanically aimed by two devices that move it left-right and up-down. This makes the aiming relatively slow and lagging the facial recognition, so the beam can be dodged much of the time. He moves to avoid the beam, and is hit in or very near to an eye about once every couple of seconds.
The screenshot below shows the camera (blue arrow) and a laser module mounted on two servos (yellow arrow).
As befits a student budget, the housing is an old pizza box. Reeves wrote the facial recognition and aiming program in C#, using Emgu CV, a .Net wrapper for the OpenCV computer vision library.
In about a day, the video received 80,000 views as well as being featured at tech blog The Verge.
From The Verge. Original YouTube video here.
UPDATED April 19 2017: Michael Reeves told C/Net “My eyes are fine. A lot of people seem concerned about that, which I admit is warranted. I used a 5 mW laser diode, and never had it in my vision for more than a fraction of a second."
Note: Previous stories and charts elsewhere on LaserPointerSafety.com may have slightly different figures for some years. This is due to CAA updating numbers after a “SDD Coding Backlog”. The numbers above are all as reported in February 2017 by CAA.
The 1,258 home incidents in 2016 represent a 12.6% decrease from the 1,440 home incidents that occurred in 2015.
Similarly, the 274 overseas incidents in 2016 represent a 22.8% decrease from the 355 overseas incidents that occurred in 2015.
Here are the 1,258 home incidents in 2016, month-by-month:
CAA listed the top 10 locations reporting laser incidents for 2016. It is not known whether these incidents all occurred at or near the indicated airports, or whether this also includes incidents (such as helicopter strikes) that occurred elsewhere but which were tallied to the closest airport.
As in the United States, the majority of laser illuminations were reported to be green. The figures below are for U.K. incidents; the color distribution is roughly the same for overseas incidents as well.
From a February 2017 report by the Civil Aviation Authority. This report contains additional details such as a monthly breakdown for each year 2009-2016, and for each of the top 10 home and overseas locations in 2016.
CANADA: Airbus agrees to commercialize anti-laser windscreen material; eliminates need for laser protective eyewear
The film will not fully block the laser light. But it will significantly reduce the glare and temporary flash blindness effects that can occur when a laser is aimed at an aircraft cockpit. This in turn reduces the potential hazard of a laser illumination.
The announcement was made at a February 21 2017 press conference. In a press release kit photo, MTI’s founder and CEO, George Palikaras, demonstrated the laser-reflecting properties by holding up a windscreen that included MTI’s metaAir film:
The press release did not indicate a time frame for introduction of the windscreens into service, nor details such as an estimated cost, or aircraft to be outfitted. An Airbus spokesperson did say that there are applications beyond the company’s commercial aircraft division. Palikaras said that metaAir “can offer solutions in other industries including the military, transportation and glass manufacturers.”
For more detailed information on Airbus’ and MTI’s plans, see this page which includes interview Q&A questions with George Palikaras a few days after the February 21 press conference.
UPDATED April 14 2017: Metamaterials Technologies Inc. closed an $8.3 million round of funding. This will be used to support commercialization of the windscreen film and to add needed staff. MTI can produce MetaAir sheets 80 cm wide by 100 cm long, which is sufficient for standard cockpit windows that are 60 cm wide. However, the process is currently semi-automated and needs to be fully automated. MTI is also looking for new headquarters. From the Chronicle Herald.
Metamaterial Technologies Inc. issued a press release dated February 21 2017, which is reprinted below.
Click to read more...
The system is intended for use in cockpits, and is self-contained — it does not need to interface with any aircraft instruments. For location, altitude and orientation data, it has a GPS and a 3-axis magnetic compass.
A laser is detected by a camera sensor, currently with 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. The camera detects the bright “bloom” from a direct or near-direct laser illumination (left image, below). To distinguish laser light from a bright non-laser light such as the sun, it looks at surrounding pixels to see whether they saturate the green channel of the sensor. (The system currently looks only for green laser beams since those represent over 90% of FAA-reported laser incidents. But future versions could look for other color laser beams as well.)
As the laser aims away from the camera, the bright center of the laser is still visible (right image, above). The system then looks at the center of the bright area to find the pixel location. Knowing the camera’s orientation, location and altitude, a Raspberry Pi computer running a Python program written by Hough calculates the approximate location. This is automatically sent via text message to pre-programmed recipients which could include law enforcement.
In ground testing on a slope, at a relatively short distance, the error was 15 meters. As the photo diagram shows, the system was successful in determining an approximate distance and location.
Hough notes that the system is a low-cost proof-of-concept. Suggested improvements include “more precise location sensors [that] would improve target location accuracy. Tapping into the high quality compass and GPS sensors on a commercial aircraft, for example, would drastically improve the ability of the system.” He also stated that smartphones include all the equipment needed: camera, compass, GPS, processor and display. So it should be possible to make a smartphone application to accomplish the same task.
From “Detection and Location System for Laser Interference with Aircraft”, December 2016. Thanks to Nate Hough for bringing this to our attention and allowing us to host the PDF. Note: A similar system, which does not calculate the laser source location, is the Laser Event Recorder.
It is more stringent than the current law which 1) only applies to aiming at aircraft, 2) requires prosecutors to prove that the perpetrator endangered the aircraft and 3) has a fine of up to £2,500 (USD $3,112).
The new law will 1) apply to a wider variety of transport modes including automobiles, 2) require prosecutors only to prove that the laser was directed towards the transport vehicle and 3) will also add the prospect of prison time to the potential punishment. The exact new fines and prison terms were not stated in the DfT announcement.
Click to read more...
The data shows that pilots reported eye effects or injuries in less than 1% of laser illumination incidents. Flashblindness was the most-reported effect, followed by “Pain, burning or irritation in eye.” Blurriness was also frequently listed, along with unspecified “eye injury.”
In 20% of eye effect/injury cases, the person affected sought medical attention.
From the FAA weekly Laser Report
Here is the same data, arranged to show the average number of incidents per day:
As in previous years, green was by far the most-reported color:
An October 2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposal would allow the manufacture of laser pointers only in the 610-710 nanometer wavelength (orange-red to deep red). This chart shows the 2016 laser illuminations arranged according to those colors:
Eye injuries or effects
There were 24 laser illumination incidents in 2016 where eye effects or injuries were listed. This is 0.32% of the total number of incidents. These are the effects listed; the total adds up to more than 24 due to multiple effects in some cases.
From the FAA weekly Laser Report, January 9 2017 with data January 1 - December 31 2016
A December 14 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal describes a price war between sellers of the updated Star Shower Motion, which adds movement to the laser dots.
The list price from Telebrands was $49.99. It appears they lowered the price to around $35, then Amazon and other retailers lowered their prices to $31-33. The wholesale price of the Star Shower Motion is around $30, meaning that Amazon is barely making money on selling this laser projector.
For consumers this may be good news. However, Telebrands is watching a major distributor undercut its own pricing. And, the lower prices are putting more laser projectors in the hands of consumers.
From the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Summary at Consumerist. LaserPointerSafety has run previous stories about he Star Shower, since they first became popular in 2015. Click for stories about aviation incidents and for general stories about the lights and their potential hazards.
This was the sole recommendation resulting from a September 5 2015 incident when the two pilots in a Ryanair flight, on approach to Porto Airport, were illuminated by laser light. The pilot flying was distracted and had to use his hand to shield his eyes. The pilot monitoring had temporary flash blindness lasting a few seconds. This contributed to the aircraft’s approach being “unstable.” The pilots executed a missed approach and did a go-around for a second approach; the plane then landed safely.
Portuguese officials told the Irish investigators that there is no law in Portugal against aiming a laser at an aircraft.
In 2014, there were 294 laser incidents reported in Portugal; in 2015 there were 264 such incidents. In 2014, 107 of the incidents occurred at Porto Airport; in 2015 there were 105 incidents at the airport.
From the Irish Examiner
LIDAR sensors on self-driving cars work by sending laser light — usually non-visible infrared beams — in order to detect objects’ shapes and distances. According to Jonathan Petit, there is a problem: “Anybody can go online and get access to this, buy it really quickly, and just assemble it, and there you go, you have a device that can spoof lidar.”
The LIDAR can be made to falsely perceive objects that do not exist, or to ignore objects that are actually present.
A simple attack would cause the self-driving car to run into another car or an object. A more sophisticated attack could cause the car to choose a different path. Petit says “[this] means that then the risk could be ‘I’m sending you to small street to stop you and rob you or steal the car.’”
The Business Insider article is unclear but it appears the $43 is for equipment in addition to the cost of the laser pointer. Also, although the article did not say, it may be that the laser pointer needs to emit infrared light instead of, or in addition to, visible light.
Petit is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
From an article in Business Insider, posted December 15 2016. The detailed article also discusses many other non-laser techniques of hacking self-driving cars.
The full text of the statement is as follows:
“The FAA’s concern is that lasers -- regardless of the source -- not be aimed at aircraft where the beams can threaten the safety of a flight. Consumers who buy laser light displays should take precautions to make sure that the lights are hitting their houses and not shining off into the sky. In situations such as this, we would start by asking the person to either adjust them or turn them off. For more information on lasers, please go to www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/“
From an FAA Eastern Division email to LaserPointerSafety.com, and from the Boston Globe. LaserPointerSafety has run previous stories about Christmas and holiday laser lights such as the Star Shower, since they first became popular in 2015. Click for stories about aviation incidents and for general stories about the lights and their potential hazards.
The Cassini K-9 “Day and Night Vision Binoculars” are normal magnifying binoculars (for day vision) with a green laser light added between the lenses to illuminate objects for “night vision.” Holding down a button activates a 532 nanometer laser, said to be less than 5 milliwatts, with a spot diameter of 4 meters at a distance of 50 meters.
Looking through standard night vision devices, the user typically sees a green glow from the image intensifier that allows enhanced vision in the dark, without any visible light being added to the scene. In contrast, the Cassini K-9 emits very visible green laser light, simulating the look of a night vision device without requiring any other change to the binoculars.
The product manual warns “Please note the green laser is a device and can be harmful if used improperly, and laser radiation can be harmful to the eyes. Do not look directly into the laser beam output aperture during operation. Laser light when reflected off a mirror like surface can cause serious damage and injury. Since the Laser binocular is not a toy, please keep out of reach of children.”
The manual also includes this cautionary graphic:
Representative prices range from $94 (Amazon) to $160 (Sharper Image). At Amazon, the product has 3.5 out of 5 stars from 13 reviewers. Amazon reviewer comments include:
- “Didn't realize it would have the bright beam of green light...Very grainy, hard to make thing out….”
- “If you are looking for something to view the dark, without being detected, this is not the one. The green laser is visible!! That's, like you can see it in the dark! The range is not up to par. The beam is cone shaped and is approximately 2 feet wide at 7 yards, carry that out to 100 yards, my scope works better at night with my mag-light.”
- “Much better than reviews indicated. Not for tactical use but adequate for bird watching or varmint spotting.”
From Amazon.com and Sharper Image
Researchers at Stanford University wanted to get data on how much lift a bird generates. To monitor the wing wake and vortices, they used a laser beam spread by a lens into a plane of light. The light source was a Litron brand double-pumped Neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride (Nd:YLF) laser. The light was green at 527 nanometers, and had a pulse repetition rate of 1 kHz.
A non-toxic mist in the air illuminated the light sheet, just like theatrical fog used at concert laser light shows. As the bird flew through the light, the mist scattered and showed the air patterns, in a technique called “particle imaging velocimetry” or PIV.
Bird-sized goggles were used to prevent any harm to the bird’s eyesight. The lenses came from human laser safety glasses and had an optical density of 6, meaning that they transmitted only 0.0001% of the laser light. The frame was 3D printed and was held on by veterinary tape. The goggles weighed 1.68 grams, which is roughly 6% of the bird’s body weight (equivalent to 9 pound glasses on a 150 lb. human).
Before beginning the series of experiments, the researchers trained four parrotlets “through many small stress-free steps of habituation.” After “several months of effort” with the birds, only one — a parrotlet named “Obi” — voluntarily flew with the laser goggles. According to the researchers, “[a]ll training and experimental procedures were approved by Stanford's Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care.”
Twelve cameras were used. Four high-speed stereo cameras were for PIV particle motion recording and recorded 4000 frames per flight. Eight cameras were for recording Obi’s wing and head kinematics as it flew from one perch, through the laser light plane, to a landing perch.
The results give “the clearest picture to date of the wake left by a flying animal.” Unexpectedly, the wing tip vortices did not stay stable as happens with aircraft, but instead broke up quickly and violently. This had not been predicted by any previous models.
From a Stanford University news story, picked up by numerous websites and news outlets including Popular Mechanics, NBC News, The Verge, Optics.org and many others. The results were published December 6 2016 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biometrics, volume 12, number 1. Thanks to Drs. Ronald K.A.M. Mallant, MSc. for pointing out an error in our description of OD 6 density; the error has been corrected.
LERapp was developed a few years ago by Dr. Craig Williamson of the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The app uses the smartphone camera; when a laser or bright light event is detected, the app makes a digital record. This includes a picture of the event, the GPS location of the phone, the user’s heading, the date and time, and laser parameters such as the beam color and estimated irradiance. A March 2013 paper, presented by Dr. Williamson at the International Laser Safety Conference, describes the app in more detail.
Screenshot from the 2013 version of the Laser Event Recorder app
As far as LaserPointerSafety.com can determine, the app was never made publicly available such as being put on an app store.
To commercialize LERapp, in December 2016 it was licensed to Profound Technologies, Inc. of Warner Robins, Georgia, who will be doing further development and marketing in major regions such as the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Profound’s president Randall Fitzgerald said that there are two planned versions.
One version will be a free or low-cost basic app that has the current features of LERapp. Profound will also be developing a central database where laser incident reports will be automatically filed, which then can be pushed out to other users of LERapp such as nearby pilots. These notifications would be available in a higher-cost version, or perhaps the notification feature would be a “freemium” add-on to the basic app.
The app will not directly be able to locate the laser’s location — the only geographic information stored is the GPS location and heading of the smartphone at the time of the incident. However, having a photo of the laser illumination may allow law enforcement to locate landmarks or street patterns. Also, Profound is considering future versions which could triangulate a ground location or area based on multiple illumination events reported to the database within a short timespan.
LERapp currently runs on Apple’s iOS operating system for iPhones. There is as yet no public release schedule for the basic or database versions. At the time of Apple App Store release, Profound also intends to have an Android-compatible version available.
From a Profound Technologies press release dated December 4 2016 and a December 8 telephone interview with Randall Fitzgerald. LaserPointerSafety.com previously ran a story about the Dstl version of the LERapp in March 2013.
The measure aims to address people pointing lasers at planes that are taking off or landing and the proliferation of drones near airports. It was signed Tuesday November 22 2016 by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The lasers often are used off airport property but directed at planes while in protected airspace. The beams can fill cockpits with green light and temporarily blind pilots or blur their vision.
From the Detroit Free Press, November 23 2016.
Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: We have been unable to find details about this law. For example, a search of the Michigan Legislature website for bills introduced in 2015-2016 with “laser” as a keyword did not appear to turn up any relevant text. For example, adding “airport” as a search term found no bills at all. A similar search for completed signed bills (“Public Acts”) found a list only with entries prior to August 2016. If anyone has more details about this bill, please contact us.
FDA’s primary concern is green lasers’ interference with the vision of vehicle operators including pilots. Green lasers are involved in over 90% of incidents where pilots reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they saw or were illuminated by laser light during a flight. (The charts below were added in January 2017 after the 2016 FAA final numbers came out.)
FDA is also worried about blue lasers which can have greater visibility to night-adapted eyes than red lasers of equivalent power.
Thus FDA is applying the “defective” label — giving them added authority over potentially injurious products — because of what they consider to be a well-known, established public safety hazard to operators of vehicles, aircraft and watercraft.
What FDA is trying to accomplish
FDA has two main goals:
1) “Turn back the clock” to the 1990s and early 2000s when almost all laser pointers were red. According to the agency, red light has the least interference with pilot vision, compared to equivalent-power green beams which can appear up to 28 times brighter. During this period there were dozens or low hundreds of reported laser/aviation incidents per year, compared with 7,703 incidents in 2015 and 7,442 incidents in 2016.
2) Make it much easier for customs and law enforcement to identify illegal laser pointers simply by their color. Red and orange-red laser pointers would be permitted; all others would be prohibited for general sales.
In addition, FDA sought to address requests from legislators including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). After high-profile incidents, lawmakers have written to FDA, asking for a ban on green pointers due to their vision-blocking abilities being a risk to pilots and passengers.
Who would be affected
FDA’s proposed color-based prohibition would only affect the manufacture, importation and sales of laser pointer products introduced into commerce. Although pointers fall under the FDA’s “surveying, leveling and alignment” (SLA) control, only pointers as defined by FDA would be restricted to red. Standard SLA equipment would not be affected — they could use any color beam.
Individuals such as hobbyists who manufacture their own laser products for their personal use would be free from FDA laser product regulations. This is because such individuals would not be considered manufacturers by FDA.
Since federal law cannot control individual use or misuse, states and localities could impose their own regulations. (A few states and localities already have their own restrictions on use and/or possession; these are not currently based on the color of the laser.) One benefit of FDA’s proposal is that any new state and local laws could “piggyback” on FDA’s color-based restrictions. That would make it easier for local law enforcement to use color to easily identify whether a person possessed a prohibited or permitted laser.
FDA’s proposal and rationale was stated in draft amendments presented October 25 to an FDA advisory panel known as “TEPRSSC”.
Click to read more...
Northern Ireland: "Laser Lunacy" drama visits schools to warn students not to aim lasers at aircraft
According to an October 19 2016 story in the Irish News, the performance depicts an aircraft crew member being blinded, which leads to a crash that injures 17 people. The subsequent investigation highlights how a criminal conviction can ruin a young person’s life.
After the performance there is a question-and-answer session to reinforce the message.
BIA’s Jaclyn Coulter told the newspaper “We have a very serious message to get across to young people and we thought that the most effective way of doing that was through drama…. [W]e are delighted with the response we have had both from schools and pupils. We want this practice to be stamped out. It is not fun. It is not a game.”
There were 35 aircraft illumination incidents last year, and 16 thus far in 2016.
From the Irish News
In 11 percent of incidents, there was “physical aggression towards passengers or crew, or damage to the aircraft,” IATA reported.
IATA’s Director General stated “There is no easy answer to stem the rise in reported unruly behavior. We need a balanced solution in which all stakeholders can collaborate. The industry’s core principles can help to manage the small percentage of passengers who abuse alcohol. And it must be balanced with efforts by governments taking advantage of all their deterrence mechanisms….”
From a September 28 2016 press release from the International Air Transport Association. LaserPointerSafety.com is publishing this as an interesting comparison with the number of worldwide incidents of laser illuminations of aircraft, which are roughly on the same order of magnitude as that of air rage incidents.
UK: Statistics on police helicopter laser attacks; one has been struck 100 times "over the last year"
Assuming “over the past year” means “in the last 12 months”, that would be an average of about two laser illuminations per week.
A separate article from BBC News states that in 2015 there were 91 reported laser illuminations of National Police Air Service aircraft. The largest number was 20 attacks against NPAS helicopters taking off from its Carr Gate headquarters near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.”
Reasons for the apparent discrepancy in numbers are not clear. It may be that South Yorkshire is not a member of the NPAS, which provides centralized air support to local police forces.
The BBC News chart below shows the 2015 NPAS laser attacks:
The NPAS is testing laser protective eyewear, as a means to help protect flight crews.
From The Star and BBC News. Interestingly, a September 14 search of the South Yorkshire Police website, to find more information about these incidents and police concern regarding lasers, did not find any results when searching for the term “laser.”
To help defend drones against laser light, a California company has developed a defensive laser to be mounted on the drone. When it detects a laser attack, it first analyzes the incoming beam’s power, wavelength, pulse frequency and source. It then uses its own laser to counter the incoming beam.
The exact method is secret. New Scientist speculates “…it may involve fooling the control system into thinking it is hitting its target despite the laser actually pointing a few metres to the side. A direct hit would have produced a big burst of reflected light, so a pulse sent back by an anti-laser laser could make it look like the original laser was on target.”
The company is Adsys Controls of Irvine, California; the anti-laser laser system is called Helios. According to the company, “Helios is a low SWaP [Space, Weight and Power], completely passive Counter Directed Energy Weapon system capable of nullifying the enemy’s DEW [Directed Energy Weapon]. Consisting of a small UAV-mounted sensor package, Helios provides full analysis of the incoming DEW beam including localization and intensity. With this information it passively jams the enemy, protecting the vehicle and the payload.”
From Popular Science and New Scientist
BALPA noted that there were 1,439 reports of laser attacks in 2015, and that 55% of pilots experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months. A spokesperson said BALPA “has been campaigning for a long time for high-powered lasers to be treated as what they are — offensive weapons.”
The association was also concerned with the threat of incidents involving drones.
A motion to ask for improved regulations passed at the meeting.
From a BALPA press release
For details, see this LaserPointerSafety.com article in the non-aviation incident section of our news coverage. We are cross-referencing the article in this section as well, for persons who are looking for articles about scientific studies of laser eye injuries.
From mid-July 2016 to late August 2016, more than 570 persons have gone to the main government hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir for treatment of eyes that have been damaged by “birdshot” (lead pellets) fired from shotguns into crowds by Indian security forces trying to break up protests and crowds.
An August 28 2016 New York Times article describes some of the lead pellet-caused eye injuries:
“The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink.”
“[A] patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old…. Slowly, as residents stood around him in hushed silence, the surgeon flattened out the boy’s retina, as thin and delicate as a lace doily, and used a laser to reattach it to the back of his eye.
“In most cases, it became clear, the pellets had burst into through the cornea and out through the retina, leaving little hope of fully restoring vision…. ‘Once it goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside,’ Dr. Qureshi said. ‘It’s physics. This is a high-velocity body. It releases a high amount of energy inside. The lens, the iris, the retina get matted up.’”
The author, Ellen Barry, notes that “….most countries do not use them on unarmed civilians, as the pellets spray widely and cannot be aimed…. This year, the use of pellets on Kashmiri protesters increased sharply, with the police firing more than 3,000 canisters, or upward of 1.2 million pellets, in the first 32 days of the protests, the Central Reserve Police Force has said.”
From the New York Times
In 2014 the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act made it illegal to aim laser pens at aircraft. According to the Irish Examiner, “Since the legislation was introduced, there has been a significant decrease in the number of laser incidents reported by Irish pilots in Irish airspace to Irish Air Traffic Control.”
As of August 26 2016, there were 31 reports of lasers deliberately pointed at aircraft in Irish airspace. If the remainder of 2016 continues at that rate, there would be about 47 laser incident reports for the entire year.
Except for mentioning the 2014 legislation, the news report did not indicate any other reason for the decline.
From the Irish Examiner
According to Haines, laser attacks have permanently damaged pilots’ vision, and it is conceivable that they could cause an aircraft crash. In 2015 there were 1,439 laser incidents reported to CAA.
Haines said there is no legitimate reason for a person to have a high-powered laser pen in public. Press reports did not indicate Haines’ definition of “high-powered”. (In the U.K., lasers used as pointers are limited to 1 milliwatt [the U.S. limit is 5 mW], so it is possible that “high-powered” would mean any handheld laser above 1 mW.)
Haines asked “Why does Joe Bloggs walking down the street need a laser that can pop a balloon at 50 miles, that can cause permanent damage to a pilot?”
The CAA chief wants new, restrictive legislation because at present, it is difficult to find laser perpetrators and to prove they had intent to endanger aviation, under the Air Navigation Order 2009.
A U.K. government spokesperson said "We take this issue very seriously and we continue to work with other Government departments, the CAA and industry to determine how best to control the sale, use and possession of laser pens. We are looking to make changes as soon as possible."
From the Daily Mail, BBC, the Mirror, and other news sources. For commentary about Haines’ statements, click the “Read More…” link below.
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Australia: Study shows inexpensive green laser pointers are mislabled and significantly over-powered
The researchers purchased eight laser pointers from sources including electronics stores and online stores. They bought four lasers with green beams and four with red beams. The cost of each laser was less than AUD $30 (USD $23).
All of the lasers were advertised to have a maximum output power of either less than 1 mW or less than 5 mW. The green laser pointers’ actual output power measured from 51 to 127 milliwatts. Dr. Fox said “At that upper level, the beam would cause catastrophic retinal damage.”
Apparently much of the green lasers’ power was in the infrared. These types of lasers work by generating non-visible infrared light which is then converted by a crystal into visible green light. A filter is normally used to block the infrared light, and only let the green light through. However, “[t]he research team found that imported laser pointers were poorly made, with manufacturers tempted to skip installing infrared-blocking filters to hold down costs.” The researchers did not measure how much of each lasers’ output was in the visible, and how much was in the infrared.
The 127 milliwatt green laser was labeled as a Class 2 device, with maximum output power of 1 mW. In a previous study from the U.S. NIST, the highest power output they measured was 66.5 mW from a green laser labeled as having a maximum output power of 5 mW.
Three of the four red laser pointers were found to be within the legal limit of 1 milliwatt. The fourth red pointer was about 8.5 milliwatts. The researchers felt that the red lasers’ spots were less focused than green lasers, meaning there was less risk of retinal damage. Also, red lasers use diodes. The maximum power output of these diodes is limited; excessive current will destroy the diode’s lasing capacity instead of providing a more powerful beam.
The researchers noted that “Our experiment raised two very pertinent concerns – first, why were class 3B lasers so easily purchased via the internet without licensing? This suggests that there are many loopholes in the importation of these products and more stringent processes need to be reinforced. Secondly, why did green lasers labeled as Class 2 reach up to a power output of 127mW, effectively attaining a class 3B classification? It is very likely that there is a significant infrared component. This drastic degree of non-compliance suggests that there needs to be more rigorous testing and quality control of these commercially available lasers – merely imposing a power limit of less than 1mW is insufficient.”
The researchers concluded by stating that “Authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and medical authorities such as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) ought to advocate more strongly for stringent testing, quality control and licensing of green DPSS lasers.”
From an RMIT press release, “Over-the-counter laser pointers a threat to eyesight” and an advance copy of a paper, “Green lasers are beyond power limits mandated by safety standards,” which will be published in the Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE Engineers in Medicine and Biology Conference, online at the IEEE Xplore website. Thanks to Dr. Kate Fox for the paper.
The laser portion of the 21-page document is four paragraphs long. The analysis appears to be sourced primarily from news accounts and public documents.
The fourth paragraph, which concludes the laser discussion, states: “Although no real damage has yet been caused by the laser threat against airplanes, the possibility cannot be ignored that terrorist organization will use laser beams against pilots in order to carry out a terror attack. This issue becomes even more significant in light of the fact that there are particularly powerful laser devices that can be found in the possession of terrorist organizations.”
Other potential aviation threats described in the document include drones, anti-aircraft missiles, recruiting disaffected airport employees, and cyber-terrorism.
The study was published by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Herzliya, Israel, a non-profit organization that calls itself “one of the leading academic institutes for counter-terrorism in the world.”
From Trends in Aviation Terrorism (PDF document)
The group’s research found that green lasers, even at low power levels, scare geese at night when they are roosting in fields, eating the green shoots of crops such as wheat and barley. They can do “significant damage,” Rashleigh said.
There is a solution during the daytime involving noise from pyrotechnics, but this can’t be used at night in a residential area.
For nighttime geese deterrence, the students looked at other options and concluded that using lasers was the best way to solve the problem. They developed a device placed about 12-15 feet off the ground, installed in the center of the field. It moves the laser across an area, throughout the night. So far, it appears to be “fairly effective.” Response has been “quite positive” from other farmers.
Rashleigh told CBC News that “safety is a huge concern.” The laser only shines where it is intended, in the field. The beam is less powerful than most handheld laser pointers; a person would have to stare into the beams for “about 8 seconds” to have any risk of damage. To protect aircraft, the device can detect if it is being pointed above the horizon, and can shut itself off.
From CBC News, via Forbes
On the education side, volunteers will visit schools and airports to provide information about why people should not aim lasers at aircraft.
On the legislative side, the group wants to create a National Laser Registration List for Class 4 lasers (those over 500 milliwatts of power), with federal law mandating registration.
PALS was founded in March 2016 by pilot Craig Pieper, who was illuminated by green laser light in December 2015 while on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. The organization’s website is at pilotsagainstlaserstrikes.org.
From Aero Crew News August 2016, pp. 26-27 and Metropolitan Airport News, August 2016, p. 10.
There was no indication as to any intended use for the devices.
According to a July 28 2016 report, Adeel Ul-Haq, 21, received a five-year sentence for “helping in the preparation of an act of terrorism” and a one-year sentence for “funding terrorism.”
Ul-Haq raised approximately £4,200 (USD $5560) via Twitter donations. Some of the money purchased the laser and night-vision equipment.
The money was confiscated, and was redistributed by the Charity Commission to two registered aid charities.
The US Army Contracting Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Natick Contracting Division (NCD) on behalf of the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) intends to issue a solicitation under Authority of FAR Part 15 for Research and Development (R&D) efforts to deliver prototype systems capable of meeting Next Generation Eye Protection (NGEP) requirements. Eyewear must be capable of exceeding military ballistic fragmentation protection requirements for eye protection as currently outlined in MIL-PRF-32432, meet optical quality requirements, provide configuration(s) with laser eye protection, accommodate varying light conditions, and be compatible with the Universal Prescription Lens Carrier (UPLC) to accommodate Marines requiring vision correction. Since follow-on production is envisioned, the ability to produce protective eyewear in production quantities is also a key consideration.
The Government is anticipating awarding 1 or more firm fixed price (FFP) contracts with a period of performance of 12 months for the required services. The Government reserves the right to award one or no contracts as a result of the solicitation.
From the pre-solicitation notice at FedBizOpps.gov. The Solicitation Number is W911QY-16-R-0043.
“Air Force aircrew members require an ALEP system for day and night applications that balance requirements for laser eye protection, mission/aircraft compatibility, and flight safety. The ALEP Block 2 system provides aircrew members with enhanced protection against hazard and threat laser devices in combat and training situations while minimizing visual acuity degradation. The ALEP Block 2 system also provides sufficient protection to prevent permanent eye damage and temporary effects (glare, flash blindness, etc.) from laser weapons/devices. The Block 2 system is compatible with current aircrew flight equipment, cockpit/cabin displays, exterior aircraft lights, and airfield lights, night vision devices, helmet mounted displays, and exterior scenery.”
The supplier is Teledyne Scientific & Imaging. The contract amount is $30.1 million, meaning the cost amortized over each spectacle is $2,550. The sole source contract stated “Teledyne is the only firm capable of providing the supplies without the USAF experiencing substantial duplication of cost that could not be expected to be recovered through competition and unacceptable delays in fulfilling its requirements.”
From GovTribe and airforce-technology.com. The federal solicitation number for this contract is FA8606-15-C-6370.
The “Star Wars Battle Quads” can move at speeds of 40-50 mph, and have clear propellers on the bottom to help maintain the illusion of a Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, TIE fighter or speeder bike flying on its own.
According to the manufacturer, Propel, up to 24 drones can have a laser battle simultaneously. A publicity photo shows laser beams clearly visible in a smoky environment:
Below is a freeze-frame from a Propel video that shows the drones (upper left corner) flying in a public demonstration. The circles show where the laser beams are shooting onto an audience.
According to the Verge, “When a ship is hit by a laser from an opposing ship, its paired controller … shakes in the pilot’s hands. After three direct hits, the drone will slowly spiral to the ground the game is over. Although the prototypes weren’t ready for one of these battles when we saw them, the lasers alone were pretty striking.”
The caption of this photo from the Verge states that the lasers are “Around the strength of a laser pointer.” Empire vehicles have green lasers, Rebellion vehicles have red.
US: FAA bill mandates quarterly reporting of laser incidents and prosecutions; increases civil penalties
- the number of laser pointer incidents reported to FAA
- the number of civil and criminal enforcement actions
- the resolution of any incidents that did not result in a civil or criminal action
- any actions taken to help deter laser pointer incidents
In addition, the maximum civil penalty that FAA can impose was raised to $25,000. It was formerly $11,000.
U.S. Government Printing Office. The full text of the laser pointer provisions of the Act is below (click the Read More… link).
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The prohibition lasts from July 18 through July 22. The list of items was first published by the city of Cleveland as part of regulations issued May 25 2016.
In the list, some items have specific descriptions, such as a restriction on “Lumber larger than 2” in width and 1⁄4” thick, including supports for signs” or “Umbrellas with metal tips.” For lasers, the list simply bans “Lasers;” there is no additional description such as allowing lasers under a certain size or power output.
The general public can possess a banned item if it is used in a workplace or at a home within the restricted zone, and if the item is used within the business or home.
The public is allowed to have guns in the event zone due to an Ohio state law allowing open carry by licensed gun owners. The event zone covers most of downtown Cleveland.
A much smaller security zone inside the convention arena, under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service, has banned guns.
From Wired and Q13 Fox. The city of Cleveland regulations are here. Click the “Read More…” link for a map of the event zone and the complete list of 72 banned items.
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In three airports in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Pleiku, there were six incidents where lasers were aimed at aircraft between May 28 and June 14 2016. The perpetrators remain unknown as of July 6 2016.
Anthony started by harvesting lasers used in DLP video projectors, such as the Casio “LampFree” series:
He purchased four broken projectors, each with an array of blue laser diodes totaling 50 watts, to get a grand total of 200 watts of laser output. He then used knife-edge optical components to help superimpose all the laser beams.
When energized, the beam is immense and powerful:
The highest (most hazardous) laser classification is Class 4, which starts at 500 milliwatts (0.5 watts). Such lasers can cause instant eye injury, skin burns and can burn materials. Anthony’s 200 watt laser is 400 times more powerful than the 0.5 watt limit where Class 4 begins.
In the video, Anthony says “this feels like I’m holding a bolt of lightning in my hands. This is definitely my new favorite toy.”
Adding a magnifying glass to the end focuses the beam onto a spot that can almost instantly burn a block of wood:
When operating the laser, Anthony wears a welder’s mask with laser goggles fitted. This prevents potential retinal burns caused by looking at the concentrated laser light. Below he is shown with the laser and mask.
At the end of the video, he says “I'm glad to have finally finished this beast because that means I can start working on some of my other projects, and in the coming months I have a lot of crazy stuff planned including impulse lasers that peak in the megawatts as well as explosively pumped lasers, so I'm looking forward to that….Until the next time, stay safe and happy lasing!”
Drake Anthony is a 23-year old senior at Southern Illinois University, who has been accepted into the University of Rochester PhD program. In a Feb. 2016 newspaper profile entitled “SIU student turns passion for lasers into potential career”, the author notes that “What really excites Anthony is the science behind the beam.” She quotes him as saying “From a theory perspective, it’s beautiful. It uses physics, it uses quantum physics, chemistry, good things of math, engineering. It’s just this conglomeration of all the best things that humans have come up with.”
From the YouTube video “My Homebuilt 200W LASER BAZOOKA!!!!!”, posted June 28 2016
The chart below, showing FAA laser illumination reports for the past nine years, demonstrates how the number of reports increased and even more dramatically decreased (yellow area):
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A closer look at the past two years shows this more clearly:
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A possible cause of the increase is that on July 16 there was widespread nationwide publicity about 11 flights that were illuminated on July 15 in and around New Jersey.
However, this event is not a full explanation. While the publicity may have triggered a “copycat” effect, incidents had been increasing at least two weeks prior to July 16.
LaserPointerSafety.com is not aware of any other external events such as new laser pointer products, changes in laws, etc. that could also account for this increase. And, we have no explanation for the dramatic fall-off starting December 23. We have reached out to FAA to find out if there were any changes in pilot reporting requirements or in data gathering procedures.
Knowing reasons for the increase — and especially for the sudden decrease — could provide clues in the effort to reduce laser pointer incidents in the U.S.
LaserPointerSafety.com estimates there will be over 8,500 laser incidents reported for 2016. This is based on comparing the number of illuminations Jan 1 - May 28 2016, with the average of the same period in the past four years.
The campaign began with a press conference where Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport and Tony Cusimano, Superintendent of York Regional Police spoke about the hazards.
Garneau said, "Pointing a laser at an aircraft is not only a reckless act that puts people at unnecessary risk, it’s simply not a bright idea. As Minister of Transport, I take this type of behaviour seriously because Canadians and their families deserve to feel safe while flying. We want people to know there are serious consequences, including $100,000 in fines and up to five years in prison. Transport Canada and law enforcement across the country are working together to ensure offenders face the fullest force of the law.”
Transport Canada has set up a website at www.tc.gc.ca/NotABrightIdea. It includes a catchy animated video, “Dumb Ways to Blind” aimed at millennials, plus three other more conventional videos on the topic.
According to the website, “[i]n 2015, there were almost 600 reported incidents.” This was an increase over the 502 incidents reported in 2014.
Transport Canada urges those interested to use the hashtag #NotABrightIdea. On Twitter, since January 1 2016 there have been about 40 posts with this hashtag; 33 of them about lasers and 7 about other topics that are “not a bright idea.”
From a news release issued by Transport Canada
Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense is permitted to self-certify their laser equipment and usage. The DoD’s Army, Air Force and Navy agencies do not need FDA approval of their helicopter-based laser illuminators. However, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which does not have a self-certification waiver. The Coast Guard must currently apply for FDA approval.
On April 14 2016, Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter to FDA, asking that the Coast Guard be permitted to self-certify their laser systems. Hunter called FDA’s policy “onerous and burdensome”.
One issue may be that the helicopter-based video system already has low-light and infrared capabilities. Although the laser illumination can further enhance the image, it may not be considered a necessity for operations.
From Seapower magazine
In a social media post around late March 2016, Kaye posted photos of a dinosaur’s eye that is only visible with his technique.
A science story notes that Kaye is “maybe the only person on Earth not named Sam Neill who can say he’s looked into the eyes of a pterosaur.”
In previous studies he used green (532 nm), blue (457 nm) and violet (407 nm) laser modules with powers from 150 to 500 milliwatts. This provides much brighter illumination of the subject. For example, a standard 20 watt ultraviolet fluorescent lamp has an irradiance (power over a given area) of 510 milliwatts per square centimeter. A 500 milliwatt (1/2 watt) laser, by comparison, provides an irradiance of around 4000 to 8000 milliwatts per square centimeter.
Kaye with his laser apparatus
The story “What Did Dinosaurs Look Like? Tom Kaye Finds Answers, Feathers With Lasers” appeared online at Inverse.com on April 19 2016. Inverse also featured a previous story, “Lasers Can Tell Us More About Fossils Than Before” on October 8 2015. A May 27 2015 paper by Kaye and associates, written for the online journal PLOS ONE, “Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence in Paleontology”, is here.
But in addition to this declaration, the authors also provided a succinct summary of the current state of consumer laser pointer misuse, and how ophthalmologists should proceed when studying a patient’s laser exposure.
Experts John Marshall, John O’Hagan and John Tyrer began by noting that low-powered Class 2 (less than 1 milliwatt) and Class 3R (1-5 mW) lasers “are not an eye hazard, and even if used inappropriately will not cause permanent eye damage.”
However, consumer laser devices with Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (above 500 mW) powers have begun to cause injuries. “….[C]lass 4 devices are capable of causing irreversible retinal damage if directed into the eye over short ranges, up to several metres. Such devices have resulted in foveal injuries in children with current estimates of 150 cases in the UK. The [UK] media has given significant coverage to this growing problem.”
Ophthalmologists were advised that in cases of close up exposure, there may potentially be permanent damage. A detailed examination would be warranted, although there is no treatment to reverse permanent damage.
The hazards from this short range misuse differ from the hazards of aiming a laser towards pilots. Because the laser-to-aircraft distance is typically “hundreds to thousands of metres”, and because of scattering from the windscreen, eye injuries are nonexistent: “Fortunately, these exposures are at irradiances that are incapable of producing irreversible retinal damage even at distances of 100 m.”
They said that only one case of alleged retinal damage has been reported in pilots. [LPS.com note: this is for publicly available reports involving civilian pilots.] The experts concluded the case is suspect for a number of reasons; they do not believe laser targeting caused the alleged injury.
Marshall, O’Hagan and Tyrer turned from injuries to the hazards of distracting pilots with bright laser lights: “Obviously, if such a distraction occurs at a critical time such as during landing then the result could be devastating.”
For ophthalmologists examining pilots, if there are no permanent abnormalities on an Amsler grid test, the physician should not do any detailed eye exam, as this “would only serve to compromise the pilot's vision for a longer period.” The authors noted that pilots may delay seeing an expert for “many hours or a day or so during which there may be a growing psychological element.”
In an interview with CNN, Marshall said the findings on pilot hazards are based on previous laser safety research as well as a new study done with field experiments at a military base over about three years.
In the BJO editorial, the three experts agreed that current laser safety standards and guidelines are based on valid experiments and science. The standards do not need to be revised, “…but clearly further attempts must be made to educate the public.”
The editorial concluded “The European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation bodies to produce a standard specifically for consumer laser products. This should allow enforcing authorities to remove unsafe products from the market. However, compliance by manufacturers will remain an issue, as will direct imports by the public purchasing unsafe laser products over the internet.”
From the British Journal of Ophthalmology editorial “Eye hazards of laser ‘pointers’ in perspective” by John Marshall, John O’Hagan, and John Tyrer, available in HTML text and as a PDF document. Click on the blue “Read More…” link below for an April 19 2016 press release from the BJO summarizing the paper’s findings relative to pilot hazards.
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Compare this with the number of illuminations in the United States over the same period:
Australia’s data roughly tracks the U.S. data during the period 2007-2012. Here are the two charts above, superimposed, with the Australia numbers multiplied six times. The slope of the lines are similar for the first six years.
Data from Airservices Australia, a corporation owned by the Australian Government whose services include air traffic control and aeronautical data. The information was provided in response to a LaserPointerSafety.com media inquiry. Thanks to Amanda Palmer for her assistance with the request.
Here is the CADORS data:
Compare this with the number of illuminations in the United States over the same period:
Canada’s data roughly tracks the U.S. data. Here are the two charts above, superimposed, with the CADORS numbers multiplied 11.7 times. The slope of the lines are similar for all but 2013/2014, and the endpoints are remarkably close.
From an analysis by Andrew Duffy in the Ottawa Citizen. Note that a few days earlier, CBC News stated that there were 590 laser/aircraft incidents in 2015. There is no indication as to reasons for the discrepancy.
Dr. John O’Hagan said that many of the handheld laser pens and pointers being sold on eBay “are very clearly not one milliwatt.” According to eBay guidelines, such lasers above 1 mW are not supposed to be listed. O’Hagan noted that the pens may be “misleadingly …. designed to look like less powerful lasers, and are priced at only around £5 [USD $7], so people may not even be aware of what they are buying.”
From the Sun; scroll down to the “Lasers” section. See also a similar warning from a UK laser pointer seller.