A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

UK: New law proposes prison for aiming laser pens at aircraft, trains, cars, other vehicles

The U.K. Department for Transport on February 5 2017 said it would propose a new law making it illegal to shine laser light towards an aircraft, train, or road vehicle.

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.
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UK: Money from convicted terrorist used to buy laser pointer

Funds provided by a convicted terrorist were spent on items including a laser pointer pen and a night-vision telescope.

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.

From CivilSociety.co.uk

US: Prosecutor says laser sentences are "getting lighter" since Gardenhire appeal

California federal prosecutor Karen Escobar said in January 2016 that sentences for aiming lasers at aircraft have been “getting lighter” since an April 2015 federal appeals court decision that struck down a 30-month sentence given to Adam Gardenhire.

The April 30 2015 decision by three judges of the Ninth Circuit found that prosecutors had not presented evidence of “reckless endangerment” of aircraft. The judges sent the case back to the U.S. district court in Los Angeles for a new sentencing hearing under a new judge. Under the original sentencing guidelines, Gardenhire had been recommended for 27 to 33 months in prison taking into account the reckless endangerment charge, or 4 to 10 months in prison without the charge.

From Ars Technica

US: UPDATED - Reporter questions effect of FAA/FBI "blame and shame" campaign

A well-known aviation reporter has taken issue with how the FAA and FBI are trying to reduce the number of laser illuminations on aircraft. On August 28 2014, Christine Negroni published a post on her blog Flying Lessons entitled “Aviation’s Effort Combating Laser Attacks Hashtag #Ineffective #Insane”.

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.

US: 134 laser arrests, 80 convictions, out of 17,725 incidents, 2005-2013

According to Ars Technica writer Cyrus Farivar, in the U.S. from 2005 to 2013 there were 134 arrests for aiming lasers at aircraft, out of 17,725 FAA-reported lasing incidents. He wrote “That means that even amongst reported incidents, there’s only a 0.75 percent chance of getting caught. Adding countless unreported incidents would only make that minuscule percentage go down further.”

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

UK: Pilots want stronger laws, jail, for laser attacks

The British Airline Pilots’ Association has issued an emergency bulletin to BALPA members, on how to avoid adverse consequences of being illuminated by laser pens. In addition, BALPA wants changes in British law so anyone possessing higher-powered lasers without a legitimate reason would be jailed.

The Association says the lasers are too easily available, and that although it is illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, the punishments have been too lenient: “Slaps on wrists and £150 fines are not enough.”

According to a September 29 2013 article in the Sunday Express, there were 1,570 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2012, and 1,911 in 2011. The most prominent airports cited were Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the East Midlands, Bristol, Heathrow and Gatwick.

From the Sunday Express

US: FAA prosecutes 1.5% of all laser/aircraft incidents

The FAA has opened 129 enforcement cases against persons who aimed laser devices at aircraft. The figure comes from an FBI press release issued September 17 2013.

This appears to describe civil cases brought by FAA based on violations of 14 CFR 91.11, which states “No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” The maximum penalty is an $11,000 fine. FAA announced on June 1 2011 its intent to charge laser perpetrators under this law, so the 129 cases referenced above would be since that time.

During the same time period, from June 2011 to September 2013, there were 8,507 reported laser/aircraft incidents in the U.S. This means that 1 out of every 70 reported incidents results in a civil prosecution. Stated another way, 1.5% of all laser/aircraft incidents result in a civil prosecution.
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UK: Pilots want jail for persons aiming laser pens at aircraft

The British Airline Pilots’ Association warned about the hazards of laser pens directed at aircraft, and called for prison sentences for the perpetrators. They noted that there were more than 1,500 incidents in 2012, with “only a handful of those responsible” being prosecuted.

BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan asked for a government cross-agency summit to address the problem. BALPA requested stronger regulations restricting the sale of high-powered lasers, more prosecutions, and action taken through trading standards.

He said that hotspots include airports at Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Heathrow.

From ITV London and ITV Granada

UK: Seizure of 7,000+ laser pointers illustrates control problems

In 2011, the U.K. Health Protection Agency analyzed samples of laser pointers seized from one company suspected of import violations. HPA found that 96% of the working pointers were above the U.K.’s legal power limit of 1 milliwatt.

7,378 lasers were seized, along with 8,780 parts from which lasers could be assembled. It was estimated that the company sold over 35,000 laser pointers from 2009-2011, generating income of over £1,000,000 (USD $1,600,000).

Techyun Hii, 33, pleaded guilty to four charges of laser pointer violations and a fifth charge of unsafe power chargers. He was sentenced to a 180 day jail term suspended for 18 months, and to 300 hours of community service. The lasers were later incinerated in a hospital’s furnace.

Lead author John O’Hagan detailed the HPA’s findings in a paper presented at the March 2013 International Laser Safety Conference in Orlando. The case had previously been reported by LaserPointerSafety.com.
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US: Appeal of 3-year sentence hinges on "willfully" aiming vs. "willfully interfering"

The language of a statute prohibiting “willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life” is at issue in the appeal of a Massachusetts man who was sentenced in January 2011 to three years in prison, plus two years probation and a $200 fine.

The August 2012 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit hinges on instructions given to the jury during Gerard Sasso’s trial in January 2010. The judge in that trial told the jury that Sasso could be convicted for willfully aiming the laser at the helicopter. The judge also said that the government did not have to prove that Sasso knew that his aiming would interfere with the pilot.

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US: First comments on new U.S. law, from Western Pa. prosecutor

On February 14 2012, President Obama signed a law making it illegal to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, or its flight path. The first official comment we have seen on this law comes from David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania. He was quoted on February 27 as saying “This is a serious federal crime which could cause disastrous consequences and will have serious repercussions in the criminal justice system.”

Hickton noted that the new law makes it easier to prosecute since malicious intent is no longer required. Instead, it must be proven that the defendant “knowingly” targeted an aircraft or its flight path with a laser pointer. The new law’s penalty is up to $250,000 fine and/or prison for up to five years.

A map from the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office shows the location of 51 laser events between September 2009 and October 2011. Arrests were made in only two of these cases: “Hickton and other officials concede it can be difficult to pinpoint culprits.”

Allegheny FSDO lasers 9-2009_10-2011
Click on map to enlarge it


From 90.5 FM Essential Public Radio and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. A press release from Hickton’s office is below (click the Read More link). Edited Feb. 28 2012 at 3:15 PM EST to correct a statement from 90.5 FM.

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Wales: Eight people convicted of laser offences thus far in 2011

Eight persons were convicted of laser offences in Wales from January 1 to December 9 2011. Police warned the public against aiming laser pens at aircraft, both because this “can have fatal consequences” and because they will “continue to take action to prosecute anyone carrying out this offence.”

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: Senate bill S. 1608 introduced to help move laser pointer legislation

U.S. Senate Bill S. 1608 provides penalties of a “substantial” fine and/or jail time of up to 5 years, for aiming laser pointers at airplanes. The legislation was introduced September 22 2011 by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Republican from Rhode Island. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A news report on WPRI said Whitehouse introduced this as a standalone measure. In February 2011 Whitehouse had proposed the same provisions as Amendment 8 to S. 223, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act which passed the Senate February 17 2011. Because House action on FAA funding was held up, Whitehouse decided to re-introduce the measure as its own bill.

The House version is H.R. 386 introduced January 20 2011 by Rep. Daniel Lungren, Republican of California. The House bill also provides a penalty of a fine and/or up to five years in prison. It was passed by the full House on February 28 2011.

It is likely that S. 1608 will successfully pass in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. If the bill is identical to H.R. 386, then the legislation would be sent to the President for his approval and signature. If the bill differs from H.R. 386 -- for example, if amendments are added -- then a House/Senate reconciliation committee would meet to work out the differences, in advance of sending a single piece of legislation to the President.

From WPRI.com. S. 1608 can be tracked on GovTrack.us; as of September 25 2011, the text of the bill has not yet been posted.

US: FAA to impose civil penalties of up to $11,000

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on June 1 2011 that they will impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 on any person who aims laser beams at aircraft. According to CNN, the agency’s authority comes from a new legal interpretation “concluding that laser beams can interfere with a flight crew performing its duties while operating an aircraft.” The flight crew interference regulation, first imposed in 1961, was originally intended to combat hijackings and has been applied only to passengers on board or next to an aircraft.

The Wall Street Journal states that “[t]he change is intended to make it easier to punish violators without resorting to time-consuming criminal proceedings.”

Previously, FAA did not go after laser violators directly. FAA will now routinely bring civil charges, and these will be in addition to any other civil or criminal charges brought by others such as the FBI, or state and local law enforcement.Click to read more...

Canada: Man gets lower fine, in part because pilot did not lose control

In a case which may have Canadian implications for laser users’ defense, a judge reduced the fine for an Edmonton man charged with creating a hazard to aviation safety.

Provincial Judge Paul Sully said the August 19 2009 incident was "not as serious” as the prosecutor described, since the pilot did not lose control, but instead was "momentarily blinded from viewing his instruments [and] was able to complete his orbits.” In addition, the judge noted that the pilot was familiar with the dangers of laser light.

Judge Sully also rejected the prosecution’s notion that the man should have culpability: “The offender had a momentary loss of common sense which resulted from his failure to recognize the high standard of care needed when handling a laser.”Click to read more...

UK: Laser beam air attacks on rise

BBC News has a 2 minute video that provides a good overview of "laser air attacks" in the U.K. There is footage of lasers hitting a helicopter during a police exercise (starting at 0:44), plus a brief look at a teen who was jailed for illuminating an aircraft.

Some of the more interesting quotes:
  • Pilot Kevin Medlock: "It's so brilliant, it takes away part of your vision for a few minutes at least. We fly an aircraft, 148 passengers, making an approach to landing at 170 miles per hour. The consequences of someone shining a laser in my eyes at that stage of flight isn't worth bearing the consequences." Medlock was hit by laser beams twice in one month.
  • "What's worrying experts is the rate at which the problem is growing:" 29 U.K. attacks in 2007, 206 attacks in 2008, and 461 in 2009 (through September).
  • (video of teen walking into court) "This man said he was trying to see how far his laser could reach. Dean Bottomley was sent to jail."
  • Captain Bob Jones, U.K. Civil Aviation Authority: "We're trying to raise the awareness of the general public, rather than worry or frighten them."
When the video is over, there are additional links to BBC News videos of laser pointer incidents.

From BBC News

UK: Growing concern over laser pointers

One man in Manchester was recently jailed for four months for endangering an aircraft after repeatedly shining a laser into the cockpit of a police helicopter from the ground.

The pilot, who was over Stockport at the time, was temporarily blinded. Unable to read his instruments, he had to make dangerous emergency manoeuvres.

This case highlights a growing concern about the inappropriate use of more powerful green laser pens or pointers.

Britain's largest pilots union BALPA has recently warned of a major air disaster unless action is taken.
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Wired Magazine: Laser pointers a "huge safety risk" for aircraft

Those tempted to flash a laser skyward for a good laugh might want to think twice. In addition to potentially downing an aircraft, pranksters could get slapped with a $25,000 fine and/or 20 years in the clink. And officials are also considering prosecuting laser shining losers as domestic terrorists under the Patriot Act. Not something you want on your résumé.

According to The Washington Post, the FAA reports during the first half of this year [2008], there have been more than 175 cases of lasers shot at aircraft, and more than 900 incidents since 2004. In most cases these were not powerful industrial lasers, but the commonplace pointers wielded by countless college professors and mid-level management types.

Additional details from the
Wired Magazine blog post

Australia: Lasers banned at football game; jail possible

Football [soccer] fans caught shining laser lights into players' faces during matches will be booted out of grounds.

The league has vowed to work with police and venues to crack down on the problem following at least two incidents in Friday night's Richmond-Collingwood clash.

"The AFL will work with police and our venues to ban anyone caught using laser lights to distract players during the course of a match," said league operations manager Adrian Anderson.

"It's unacceptable for players in a contact sport having something shine in their eyes while playing the game.

A sharp jump in the number of lasers aimed into aircraft cockpits has sparked new laws to allow offenders to be jailed.
The draft laws will be put before the Senate today. The legislation comes as Transport Minister Mark Vaile reported there had been 170 laser incidents in 2007 and the dangerous practice was happening more often.
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