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US: 2012 laser/aircraft incident statistics

The number of laser/aircraft incidents in the U.S. during the period January 1 2012 through December 31 2012 was 3,482. This was an average of 9.5 incidents each night during 2012. (For 2011’s statistics, see the 2011 laser incidents page.)

What is an FAA-reported “laser incident”?: This is defined as an aircraft pilot seeing one or more laser beams during flight. A mid-2011 study by Rockwell Laser Industries of 6,903 incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration found that in 27% of incidents, beams entered the cockpit (passed through the windscreen). For example, in 2011, there were 3,591 incidents of which approximately 970 (27%) involved beams in the cockpit.

Year-to-Date Comparison
The 3,482 reported U.S. laser/aircraft incidents in 2012 compare with 3,591 incidents during 2011, approximately 2,836 incidents during 2010, and approximately 1,527 incidents during 2009.

Pic 2013-01-04 at 5.18.27 PM
The number of U.S. laser incidents decreased slightly in 2012

Projected 2013 Estimate

If the number of laser/aircraft incidents in 2013 continues to decrease at the same rate as from 2011 to 2012 (-3.04%), then there would be 3,376 incidents in 2013.

Adverse Effects
In 36 (1.0%) of the 3,482 laser/aircraft incidents in 2012, a pilot or aircraft occupant reported a temporary adverse visual effect such as flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache. In four of the 36 eye incidents, the eye effect may have been more serious or long-lasting. In no incidents, either in 2012 or in previous years, was there any permanent eye damage.

Total Incidents, 2004 to Date
There have been approximately 13,737 laser/aircraft incidents reported to FAA, from January 1 2004 through December 31 2012.

Yearly Comparison
Here are the number of incidents reported to FAA in recent years:
  • 2012: 3,482 incidents (9.5 per night)
  • 2011: 3,591 incidents (9.8 per night)
  • 2010: 2,836 incidents (7.7 per night)
  • 2009: 1,527 incidents (4.2 per night)
  • 2008: 949 incidents (2.6 per night)
  • 2007: 639 incidents (1.8 per night)
  • 2006: 384 incidents (1.1 per night)
  • 2005: 283 incidents (0.78 per night)
  • 2004: 46 incidents (0.13 per night) involving an unknown number of aircraft. Note: FAA mandated that pilots report incidents using Advisory Circular 70-2, beginning January 19 2005. Before this date, pilot reporting was voluntary.

Incidents by Type (cockpit illumination, intentional exposure, eye effects & injuries)
In mid-2011, Rockwell Laser Industries analyzed 6,903 FAA reports from 2004 to mid-March 2011. They found that the cockpit was illuminated only in about 1,875 incidents (27%). The exposure appeared intentional in about 350 incidents (5% of all illuminations), defined as multiple exposures or the beam tracking the aircraft.

There were about 100 incidents (1.5% of all incidents) where eye effects or injuries were reported. (A separate analysis by LaserPointerSafety.com shows that the vast majority of eye effect/injury reports are of minor, temporary effects. There are a few claims of eye injuries, and a very few claims of retinal injury.)

More information and a visual chart about RLI’s study is here.

Information for 2011

For statistics covering 2011, including more detailed information on the most common laser colors, the busiest day of the week, etc., see the 2011 laser incidents page.