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UK: 1,258 laser/aircraft incidents in 2016, a 12.6% drop from 2015

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority reported that in 2016, there were 1,258 pilot reports of laser illuminations within the U.K., and an additional 274 reports of incidents that occurred outside the U.K.:


UK laser incidents 2009-2016

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:

UK laser incidents 2009-2016 monthly

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.


Top 10 UK laser incident locations 2016

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.

UK laser events by color, 2016


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.

UK: Arrest persons carrying "high-powered" laser pointers in public, says top aviation regulator

The head of the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said that persons carrying “high-powered” laser pointers in public should be arrested even if they are not using them. He said that CAA and the British Airline Pilots Association want legislation outlawing possession of high-powered laser pens without a license. The chief executive of CAA, Andrew Haines, was speaking in late August 2016 to the Press Association about the misuse of lasers, which he considers to be a greater threat than drone near-misses, since laser misuse is “a deliberate attempt to cause harm.”

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.
Click to read more...

UK: Government department in talks to possibly withdraw high-powered lasers

On February 16 2016, the U.K. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it will meet with “stakeholders, including the Civil Aviation Authority, to determine what more can be done to protect the public from the potential dangers of certain laser products.” This comes on the heels of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) asking for lasers to be treated as “offensive weapons” after a Virgin Atlantic flight turned back due to a laser illumination.

The meeting is scheduled to occur during the week of February 22-26. A department spokesperson said on February 16 that it was too early to discuss any potential changes to laws.

From the Telegraph

UK: Around 9,000 laser incidents, Jan 2009 - June 2015, according to CAA

According to the Daily Mail, “Between 2009 and June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.”

For comparison, in the United States from January 1 2009 through May 31 2015, there were 21,414 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. (An additional 457 incidents were reported during June 2015.) From January 1 2004 through December 31 2015 there were 29,097 laser incidents reported to FAA.

U.K. information from the Daily Mail. U.S. information from FAA data.

UK: 400+ laser incidents in the first half of 2015

According to U.K. Civil Aviation Authority statistics, there have been about 4-5 laser incidents reported each day on average, during the period from January 2011 to late November 2015.

From January 1 to June 30 2015, there were more than 400 laser incidents reported to CAA. Heathrow had the most incidents by count, with 48 in the first half of the year. (This is actually fewer incidents per month than last year, when there were 168 total Heathrow laser reports for all of 2014.)

By proportion of laser incidents to air traffic volume, there was a higher frequency of attacks at regional airports such as Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and Newcastle.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) on November 2015 released the results of a survey of its pilot members, showing that 50% had reported a laser/aircraft incident during the period from November 2014 to November 2015.

From the Guardian and the Express. The CAA and BALPA statistics were released along with news of a British Airways pilot who reportedly suffered severe retinal injury from a spring 2015 exposure to a “military-strength” laser.

UK: 1,442 laser incidents in 2014; up 3.4% over 2013

There were 1,442 laser-aircraft incidents reported to the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority in 2014. This is a 3.4% increase over the 2013 figure of 1,394 reported laser incidents.

2009-2014 UK CAA laser incidents chart

Additionally, there were 312 laser incidents that occurred outside the U.K. to U.K. operators.

In 2014, the top four most frequent incident locations were London/Heathrow (168), Manchester International (107), Birmingham (92), and Leeds Bradford (81). London/Gatwick and Glasgow were tied for fifth place, each with 64 reported incidents.

CAA published a PDF report with more detailed figures, including a monthly breakdown of the most frequent laser incident locations in 2014, and monthly & yearly totals for 2009 through 2014, and overseas (non-U.K.) incidents occurring to U.K. operators.

From the CAA PDF report dated February 2 2015. Note: There is a discrepancy where one table lists a total of 1,440 incidents in 2014 while another lists a total of 1,442. We have used the larger figure in this story.

Additional charts are on the page listing 2014 incident statistics, and the page with 2004-2014 historical data.

Norway: 100 aircraft incidents one reason for proposal to limit pointers to 1 mW

On May 16 2014, the Norwegian Ministry of Health proposed to ban the sale and use of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt without approval from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. The reason given was that “the current approval system, where it is permitted to use and possession of laser pointers in private rooms without approval, has not proved sufficient to prevent potentially dangerous use of laser pointers.”

The ministry received 18 official comments by the August 8 submission deadline. According to Dagens Medisin, “none of the answers are critical [of] mitigation in the use of laser pointers.”

The ban was supported by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), the Police Directorate and the Customs and Excise department.

The CAA said that there were around 100 incidents each year where lasers were pointed at aircraft in Norway.

If the measure is enacted, it will take effect beginning in 2015.

From Dagens Medisin, in the original Norwegian and in English (Google machine translation). The proposal and links to comments, can be found here in Norwegian, and here in English.

UK: 1300+ laser incidents in 2013

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority reported “more than 1,300 reports” of laser illuminations of aircraft “across the UK” in 2013, according to an August 18 2014 story in the Surrey Mirror.

The newspaper also reported that in the 12 months between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 31 reports of aircraft being illuminated as they approached Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London.

Laser strikes have also increased on rescue helicopters flying out of Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, a few miles north of Gatwick. A tactical flight officer was quoted as saying “I've had to break away from a task because of being lasered and it's not because we're trying to catch a bad guy, it's because we're trying to find people potentially in danger.... There are certain elements of society that might be trying to harm us or put us off being in a certain location.”

Police inspector Mark Callaghan told the Mirror that there have been a number of jail terms for perpetrators, but that "Hand-held lasers are easily obtained over the internet or from market stalls and street vendors abroad. The warning labels on these are misleading and they are more powerful than advertised."

From the Surrey Mirror

UK: More than 220 laser attacks in two years in West Midlands, says CAA

From mid-2011 to mid-2013, there were more than 220 pilot reports of laser beams in the West Midlands area, according to a Freedom of Information Act request reported by the Birmingham Mail on July 3 2013.

This is roughly one-third of the 700 incidents over the same time frame that involved aircraft in or above the West Midlands. (The 480 non-laser incidents included bird strikes, emergency landings, a bomb threat, a dog on the runways and closure of an airfield because of a flying kite.)

On one occasion in July 2011, four different lasers were aimed at a police helicopter in a single incident.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association asked for prison sentences for persons caught aiming at aircraft, as well as regulations over the sale of high-powered lasers.”

According to West Midlands police, laser attacks on their helicopter have fallen in months prior to July 2013.

From the Birmingham Mail. See also a related LaserPointerSafety.com article on BALPA’s laser pointer suggestions.

Scotland: Pilots want stepped-up prosecution against laser attacks

“Prosecution rates for laser attacks need to improve,” according to a spokesperson for the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA). “We need the judiciary to get on top of the problem …. small fines or warnings for perpetrators of these attacks is not enough; anyone shining a laser at an aircraft recklessly should receive an automatic prison sentence.”

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

UK: CAA issues Safety Notice to pilots, after 2,300 laser attacks in 2011

The Civil Aviation Authority issued Safety Notice SN-2012/005, containing recommendations regarding operational safety to counter laser attacks, on April 13 2012.

Below are highlights from the document, which gives some background information and statistics, and then describes how affected crew should prepare for and react to a laser attack. (Emphasis in bold added by LaserPointerSafety.com.)
Click to read more...

UK: Eye test for pilots available from CAA website

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority have produced an “Aviation Laser Exposure Self-Assessment”, to be used by persons exposed to laser light. It was developed for the CAA’s medical department by Stephanie Waggel, of George Washington University.

The ALESA card is available in hard copy, and can also be downloaded from CAA’s website. If downloaded, the Amsler Grid on the first page should be printed so it is 10 x 10 cm.

Pic 2012-04-10 at 9.36.25 AMPic 2012-04-10 at 9.37.22 AM
Click for PDF version from CAA ALESA webpage


When staring at the dot in the center of the grid, if the lines appear distorted or there are blank or faded areas, there may be a problem. The person is encouraged to remove themselves from aviation-related duties such as flying or air traffic control, and to see an eye specialist.

The second page has a flowchart of exposure conditions leading either to a “1” meaning unlikely eye damage or a “2” meaning eye damage possibility. If the person scores a “2”, the flowchart suggests they see an eye specialist.

From PilotWeb and the CAA ALESA webpage. The CAA press release about ALESA is here.

US & UK: UPDATED - Laser incident rate in U.K. more than twice the U.S. rate

Aircraft in the United Kingdom are 2.24 times more likely to be involved in a laser incident, than aircraft in the United States, according to a LaserPointerSafety.com analysis. The figures compare the number of aircraft takeoffs and landings, to the number of reported laser incidents. Specifically:

  • U.S. airports had 9,079,000 flights in 2011, with 3,591 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. This is a rate of one U.S. laser incident for every 2,528 flights. Said another way, this is 0.40 incidents per 1,000 flights.
  • U.K. airports had 2,152,787 flights in 2011, with 1,909 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority. This is a rate of one U.K. laser incident for every 1,128 flights. Said another way, this is 0.89 incidents per 1,000 flights.

The ratio of U.K. to U.S. rates is 2.24, meaning that the U.K. had more than twice the number of laser incidents than the U.S., when adjusted for the number of flights. (Important note: These figures do NOT mean that commercial aircraft are targeted at the rates indicated. Many laser incidents involve police helicopters. The analysis is simply meant to compare the two countries’ rates of laser misuse against aircraft of all types.)

It should also be noted that there could be many underlying factors affecting the precise numbers. For example, it is not known if the U.S. counts laser incidents in the same way as the U.K.

However, the figures do indicate that the U.K. rate of laser incidents appears to be significantly higher -- roughly twice the U.S. rate, based on the number of flights.

From an analysis by LaserPointerSafety.com, March 22 2012.

Updated May 27 2012 to correct a math error and make clear that it is the United Kingdom which has a higher rate of laser incidents (e.g., more incidents per 1000 flights). Our thanks to Brian Turner for pointing out this error.

Methodology: We define a “flight” as a takeoff plus a landing. US flight figures are from the Airline Activity “departures” statistic from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It is assumed that each flight which departs also lands, so the data is accurate for “flights” as we have defined it. UK flight figures are from totaling column G, Total ATMs, from “Table 4, 1 Air Transport Movements 2011” found on the CAA UK Airport Statistics 2011 page. A UK “movement” is one takeoff plus one landing, so this is the same as our “flights” definition.

While the flight statistics compare only airline (US) and air transport (UK) flights, and do not include law enforcement flights, we believe this is a valid “apples to apples” comparison of how many more flights take place in the U.S. than in the U.K. A previous LaserPointerSafety.com analysis showed that law enforcement flights are less than 1% of the total flights from U.S. airports. Inclusion of law enforcement flight numbers would not significantly change the ratio of U.S.-to-U.K. flights.

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UK: 1,909 laser incidents in 2011; renewed calls for laser ban or restriction

The March 15 2012 arrest of a Keighley, West Yorkshire man has led to renewed interest in U.K. laser pointer incidents, and potential restrictions. Kris Hopkins, Member of Parliament from Keighley, said there should be stronger punishment for laser misuse, and that government should consider regulating laser purchasers.

In 2011, a law was introduced by MP Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West), to make it a criminal offense to shine a laser into an aircraft cockpit.

According the Civil Aviation Authority, there were 1,909 laser incidents in the U.K. in 2011, compared with three in 2008. [Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: The 2008 statistic is almost certainly incorrect. A previous LaserPointerSafety.com news item from BBC News reported 27 lasers were used against commercial aircraft in 2007, and there were 80 cases from January through September 2008.]

From the Bradford Telegraph and Argus

South Africa: Up to 12 incidents per week, say pilots

Between 10 and 12 laser illuminations of aircraft each week are reported to the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa (ALPA-SA). A spokesperson said the number is likely much higher since pilots for large airlines would report directly to the airline. (Of four airlines contacted by the Cape Argus, one said they had “infrequent instances” which they had reported to authorities, two said they had received no complaints from flight crews, and one did not respond to requests for comment.)

ALPA-SA is calling for public education and a ban on handheld laser sales. According to the organization, there was a temporary drop in the number of incidents after media reports earlier in 2011, but the incidents are now on the rise again.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said “a few cases” had been reported thus far in 2011. He added that if the International Civil Aviation Organization introduced new regulations, the CAA would “definitely look into implementing it.”

From the Cape Argus

South Africa: 70 incidents in 2011, including a go-around; no arrests

In 2011, there were 70 laser illumination incidents in South Africa reported to Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS). One was a go-around of a commercial airliner at OR Tambo International Airport, which serves Johannesburg and is the busiest airport in Africa. Although pilots were temporarily flashblinded, the go-around did not result in any injuries.

The majority of South African incidents occurred in Cape Town, with other reports at OR Tambo, Wonderboom in Pretoria, and Lanseria International. In an incident in Lanseria, “two pilots were blinded so badly that after landing they couldn’t see the man who signaled where to park the plane” according to News24.com.

There were no persons arrested during 2011 for aiming a laser at aircraft. Over all years, there have only been two incidents resulting in arrests (as of January 11 2012):


A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said “It is a serious hazard to point laser lights at aircraft.” The maximum penalty for an offense is a “hefty fine and up to 30 years in jail.”

The general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa said ALPA-SA members were reporting increasing numbers of incidents where “sudden and intense bursts of light [are] deliberately shone at aircraft…”

From The New Age and DefenceWeb

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: The figure of 70 incidents reported to ATNS in 2011 is probably low. A May 5 2011 news story quoted ALPA-SA as saying they receive between 10 and 12 complaints from pilots every week. That would result in 520 to 624 laser illuminations per year. Also, the 70-incident figure may be a misunderstanding or misquote. A news story from March 2011 quotes ALPA-SA as saying there were 70 incidents in the 10 months from April 1 2010 through February 28 2011; see News24.com.
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UK: Heathrow laser incidents almost triple

The Civil Aviation Authority says that laser incidents at Heathrow Airport nearly tripled. In 2009 there were 29 reports compared with 86 in 2010. A CAA spokesperson said the lasers are not legally “pens” (below 1 milliwatt) but are higher-powered lasers purchased on the Internet.

From
BBC News

South Africa: Incidents are increasing; pilots express concern

South Africa is experiencing about 12 incidents a week as of April 2011, according to the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa. The most-affected airports are at Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Lanseria. Apparently, there is no central reporting requirement or agency in South Africa, so “the figure was probably much higher”, according to an ALPA SA spokesperson. She also characterized the incidents as “pranks” but said due to the danger, criminal charges should be pursued.

A representative of the Civil Aviation Authority said that laser misuse violates two sections of the Civil Aviation Regulations, and can be punished with a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years. (There was an arrest in 2010 during the World Cup, when 35-year-old Yusuf Ebrahim temporarily blinded a helicopter pilot.) The CAA representative said the Authority would consider new standards or regulations if they were recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

To report a laser illumination incident in South Africa, CAA said to email information to cahrs@caa.co.za or fax it to 011 545 1453.

From Independent OnLine Scitech. An IOL story about Yusuf Ebrahim’s first court appearance is here.Click to read more...

UK: Police "fight back" by tracking laser hits

UK police are testing a Laser Event Recorder (made by Optra) on a helicopter, to record the GPS location and take photos of incidents. The LER also analyzes the laser wavelength, which can help in identifying the laser used: “it’s a little bit like matching a bullet to a gun”. A BBC News article with video and photos demonstrates how the LER and thermal (infrared) imaging are used to catch perpetrators.




1: Police helicopter is targeted by laser pointer on the ground. 2: Helicopter crew use Laser Event Recorder to locate pointer via GPS, and record its wavelength. 3: GPS details enable helicopter’s thermal (infrared) camera to find suspect, and send police patrol on the ground to arrest the person.

In addition, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is planning new laws prohibiting shining a laser at an aircraft. Currently, prosecutors have to prove that the laser user “recklessly or negligently endangered an aircraft”.”

BBC quotes Bob Jones, head of flight operations at the CAA: “"To those individuals targeting aircraft with laser devices the message is clear -- don't. You will be caught and you will be prosecuted and you could spend up to five years in prison. These things are not toys, they pose a serious risk to all flight safety."

Many more details, including photos and a video of a helicopter finding a laser perpetrator, are at the BBC News website.

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.
Click to read more...