A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
In an interview, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Williams discusses the hazards of laser interference with pilots. He recounts an episode in mid-July 2017 where he and a co-pilot were lased. They identified the source of the laser beam. Ground officers found that the perpetrator was a teenager. Williams said “We specifically requested that the cops not get the FBI involved. I don’t want any kids going to jail or getting felony charges on their record.”
He added, “When the cop showed up at the door and explained to the dad what was going on, the dad broke the kid’s laser there on the spot.”
The reluctance to report appears to stem from a 2009 lasing incident which was reported to the FBI. A 30-year-old man, Joshua Don Park, “on a whim” decided to aim a cat laser pointer at a Utah National Guard helicopter. Park told arresting officers that he was unaware the laser’s light could interfere with pilots’ operations. The Journal story says Park “faced up to five years in prison. [Another source says he faced up to 20 years.] Tragically, he committed suicide shortly before he could be sentenced.”
The story continues, “Since that sobering incident, no Utah National Guard pilots have reported lasing incidents to the FBI—but not for lack of occurrences. ‘My unit alone has had two incidents in the past three months,’ said Williams.”
From the South Valley Journal. More details about the original February 2009 lasing and September 2009 suicide are here.
In the ten weeks prior to September 26 2014, there were seven incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft; five of these led to arrests.
News reports did not directly link the misuse to the man arrested with the 107 laser pens. It also is not known if the investigation that led to the seizure was started in response to the aircraft incidents, or was separately initiated. All flights landed safely.
One of the seized pens was said to be 650 times more powerful than normal. Given that U.K. regulations prohibit laser pointers above 1 mW, the pen was likely 650 milliwatts. This is Class 4, the most hazardous laser classification, as the beam can cause eye and even skin burns.
From the Daily Echo
She disagrees with the U.S. government’s primary focus being a “blame and shame” campaign that tries to capture laser perpetrators using helicopters, then prosecutes them and publicizes the resulting multi-year sentences. Negroni calls this a “high-tech, heavy-metal, dollar-intensive approach to the problem … [that] has gone terribly wrong…”
Her contention is that persons who aim at aircraft “don’t watch television news, read the daily newspaper or log on to the FAA laser education website before heading out into the night with their nifty green or blue laser pointers.”
She ends her blog post by calling for creativity to try to market this message to its target audience of teens and young men, using a more sophisticated publicity or social media effort.
In the past few years Negroni has written about what she calls “this disaster in the making” for the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. Late in 2013, she wrote a more detailed article for the blog Runway Girl Network, exploring the problem — and suggested solutions — in more depth.
From Flying Lessons. Background information disclosure: LaserPointerSafety.com provided some information to Negroni which was used in her articles.
UPDATED September 8 2014 - Negroni’s blog post was reprinted by the Huffington Post.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected Michael Smith's defense that he didn't believe the laser would reach the airliner, saying federal law doesn't require prosecutors to show he intended to hit the aircraft.
Below is more information, including a summary of the court’s decision and a link to the full decision.Click to read more...
Farivar noted that there were 80 convictions among the 134 arrests. One reason for the conviction rate of 60%: some who were arrested were minors who were never formally charged.
The extensively researched 4,200-word article, dated May 21 2014, was based around the 14-year sentence handed down in March 2014 to Sergio Rodriguez, for his August 2012 aiming of a laser at two helicopters, one medical and one police. Farivar used the case to illustrate many laser/aviation issues, especially about how prosecution is being used to try to educate and deter future incidents.
Farivar interviewed Karen Escobar, who has brought more cases against laser perpetrators than any other federal prosecutor. Her territory includes Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield.
In the article, Escobar was quoted as saying “At sentencing, [Rodriguez] did not accept responsibility for his actions; he blamed his 2- and 3- year-old children. I believe the evidence showed the laser was a dangerous weapon, and there was intention, supporting a guideline sentence of 168 months. I would not call it harsh. I would say it is a penalty that fits the crime, but I believe that it will have a deterrent effect, and I hope it will.”
Farivar noted that, “While 14 years might sound incredibly excessive for an incident that caused no serious or lasting physical injury, much less death, this is the emerging reality for attorneys prosecuting laser strikes. The Rodriguez sentence now serves as an example of what can happen to defendants who don't take plea deals. (The plea deals typically end up being around two years.)”
From Ars Technica
During this timespan according to agency records, there were 7,149 reported incidents. This means that the FAA investigated 2.1% of the incidents, and took enforcement action in 1.3% of the incidents.
There were no specific details about how many enforcement actions resulted in a conviction and/or penalty such as a fine or jail time. The agency did say in general that “Federal, state and local prosecutors have sentenced laser violators to jail time, community service, probation and additional financial penalties for court costs and restitution.”
The press release distinguished between accidental and deliberate use of lasers: “The FAA’s guidance for agency investigators and attorneys stresses that laser violations should not be addressed through warning notices or counseling. The agency seeks moderately high civil penalties for inadvertent violations, but maximum penalties for deliberate violations.
From the FAA’s Fact Sheet - Laser Strikes
The operation was initiated in August 2013, after multiple incidents of lasers being aimed at aircraft around Portland International Airport. Four law enforcement aircraft were equipped with video surveillance cameras.
On August 10, five aircraft were targeted by a ground-based green laser. One was an Alaska Airlines flight; two were from the FBI and two were from the Portland Police Bureau. At the same time, a surveillance team was on the ground. Using information from the FBI/PBB aircraft sightings, the ground officers observed suspicious behavior from a male in the back yard of a duplex apartment. He was looking up at the sky. He removed something mounted from a stand or pole, and went inside. The laser strikes ceased afterwards.
Six days later, after reviewing the video, consulting Google Earth and Google Maps, and visiting the apartment complex, an FBI Special Agent determined that Apartment 35 -- the one previously surveilled -- was the most likely source of the laser. The apartment was occupied by 39-year-old Stephen Francis Bukucs.
Surveillance cameras were then secretly installed, watching Apartment 35. They could see in daylight, low light and nighttime (using infrared).
Click to read more...
A police pilot spokesperson said laser users are not reading the packaging which clearly states not to aim at aircraft. After being caught, "There's been a lot of apologies, a lot of regret, some people not realizing the consequences of what they were doing, and then there's been the far opposite -- I can't believe this is happening, this is ludicrous, this isn't serious, it's just a laser pointer."
The pilot also said that a ban is not the answer: "If it's used properly, it's harmless. It's hard to ban something like that, the sale of it completely if 95% of the general public are using it properly."
He noted that not just police aircraft are being lased. Commercial and private aircraft also are at risk.
Edmonton police helicopter pilots are equipped with safety glasses for use during laser illuminations. They have two pair, one to attenuate red laser light and one to attenuate green laser light.
For details on the two most recent Edmonton incidents, on September 6 and 7 2012, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
From the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun. Thanks to Keith Murland for bringing this to our attention.
An April 2013 investigation by the Scottish Express found 338 incidents in Scotland from January 1 2011 through February 13 2013. Only 12, or 3.5 percent, had been solved. The paper noted that the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) suggests there are 12 incidents involving lasers each day globally. [Note: The U.S. rate is approximately 9-10 per day, indicating the rest of the world’s rate is 2-3 per day which LaserPointerSafety.com believes to be higher.] An IATA spokesperson said the organization “support[s] strong penalties for anyone caught engaging in the act.”
The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority said there were 152 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in 2012, compared with 136 incidents at Glascow Airport which has 1/10 the number of passengers.
The Scottish Express story contains additional statistics on Scotland airport lasing rates.
From the Scottish Express
33-year-old Techyun Hii ran Sky Laser Pointers from his home in Ribbleton, a suburb of Preston, Lancashire. In 2011, Lancashire Trading Standards officials found he had lasers that were up to 150 milliwatts, substantially over the U.K. limit of 1 milliwatts for laser pens sold to the public through an eBay store. Three packages were being sent to Greece, just before the Greek riots. He had been warned twice before about U.K. laws and his obligations.
In April 2012, investigators placed a test purchase which led to Hii’s arrest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of selling illegal goods, and will be sentenced July 4 2012.
From the Lancashire Evening Post
UPDATED November 25 2012: Hii was sentenced to a 180 day jail term, suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work. The lasers sere destroyed by burning them in a hospital’s furnace. From the Lancashire Evening Post.
UPDATED March 22 2013: The case was the subject of a paper in the Proceedings of the 2013 International Laser Safety Conference, “Laser Product Assessment for Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service” by John O’Hagan, Michael Higlett and Marina Khazova, pp. 181-188. A summary of the paper is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.
KABC quoted the Glendora regional police helicopter tactical flight officer who was illuminated as saying “The laser could cause [eye] damage, and there’s a potential for the helicopter to crash.” The report said he and a pilot were recently trained by the FBI in how to handle a laser attack and how to track down a suspect.
Laser incidents are rising both nationwide and at local airport Los Angeles International (LAX), stated the report. It concluded by reminding the public that “any offense jeopardizes the safety of everyone.”
A spokesperson noted that several of the arrests involved young people. He said, “We’re hoping parents will see this message so they can remind their children, if they have access to laser pens, not to use them irresponsibly.”
According to the news story, the maximum penalty for recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft is a fine up to £5,000, and/or five years imprisonment.
From NewsWales. One LaserPointerSafety.com news item about a 2011 Wales conviction is here.
US: UPDATED - Myrtle Beach CAP official witholds safety flights after being charged for confiscating laser pointer from 12-year-old (+ 2 updates)
In retaliation, Teachout said the three-pilot Civil Air Patrol would not provide help to Horry County (where Mytle Beach is located) for certain calls including offshore missing persons and forest fires. According to the Sun News, Teachout said “I support Horry County but if they don’t have [the pilots’] backs then no thanks. We don’t need to be here.”Click to read more...
92 laser sights and 74 automatic machine guns were ordered between Sept. 2008 and January 2010 on Lake County letterhead and purchase orders. The officers paid for the products with personal funds. The amount earned from Internet resales was not stated, although the three officers were also indicted for understating their personal income by a total of $387,000.
The laser products came from Insight Technology Inc. and Laser Devices Inc. The 92 restricted laser sights were purchased for approximately $1000 to $1400 each and were sold on eBay for around $2800 to $4200 each. A special agent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (which regulates laser devices) made an undercover purchase as part of the evidence-gathering process in the case.Click to read more...
Perpetrators are shining beams onto the faces, “chests and private parts” of passers-by; the latter starting fights with boyfriends according to the chief. One family complained that their child had a seizure after a laser was shone on their eyes. A councilwoman said “a young boy ... shined a green laser directly into her eyes. She said her vision is now hazy and impaired, though a doctor advises her it will eventually return to normal.”
An article from delmarvanow.com quoted 29-year-old Richard Drake of Ocean City, who in 2009 “sustained serious damage to his left eye after having a red laser shone purposefully in the face. Now he sees everything with a pinkish hue.” He is campaigning to have laser pointer sales banned in the resort town.
The town council was poised to ban sales to minors and possession by minors, to make it illegal to aim lasers at people and vehicles, and mandating signs in stores and handouts to buyers that describe the city’s ordinances. (The legislation passed; see story here.)Click to read more...