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US: FAA clarifies "incidents" vs. "aircraft" laser illumination events

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has clarified how it defines “incidents” in the FAA Laser Incident Database. According to FAA, each time the pilot, crew or (in rare cases) passengers of an aircraft see a laser beam -- either outside the cockpit or coming through the windscreen -- this is one “incident”. According to this criteria, the numbers of incidents in the past five years are as follows: 3,591 incidents in 2011, 2,836 incidents in 2010, 1,527 incidents in 2009, 949 incidents in 2008, and 639 incidents in 2007.

This is important because the FAA Laser Incident Database sometimes listed multiple reports from aircraft on a single spreadsheet row, if these were all in the same location at about the same time. Thus, it might appear that there was one “incident” which was reported by multiple aircraft. (This is how LaserPointerSafety.com interpreted an “incident” prior to February 15 2012.) However, FAA is now saying this was not their intent. While FAA may suspect that a single perpetrator was involved, they cannot be certain and thus to FAA this would be multiple incidents.

For example, in 2011, there were 12 spreadsheet rows that listed two or more aircraft as seeing the same laser. One row listed 5 aircraft, one row listed 3 aircraft, and ten rows listed 2 aircraft. Thus, there were 28-12 or 16 additional incidents according to FAA’s clarified definition.

The statistical analysis at LaserPointerSafety.com here and here reflects how FAA counts incidents.