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US: Coast Guard seeks FDA waiver; wants to use laser illuminators on helicopters

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking a waiver from Food and Drug Administration laser safety regulations, so that CG helicopters can use laser illuminators to enhance video vision. The problem is that the laser illuminators do not have a minimum altitude interlock. This prevents use when the laser is used so close to a person that the irradiance is above the FDA’s Maximum Permissible Exposure levels, and thus could cause eye injury.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense is permitted to self-certify their laser equipment and usage. The DoD’s Army, Air Force and Navy agencies do not need FDA approval of their helicopter-based laser illuminators. However, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which does not have a self-certification waiver. The Coast Guard must currently apply for FDA approval.

On April 14 2016, Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter to FDA, asking that the Coast Guard be permitted to self-certify their laser systems. Hunter called FDA’s policy “onerous and burdensome”.

One issue may be that the helicopter-based video system already has low-light and infrared capabilities. Although the laser illumination can further enhance the image, it may not be considered a necessity for operations.

From Seapower magazine

US: Coast Guard says NJ laws have not reduced laser strikes

The U.S. Coast Guard held a media event July 28 2015 at Coast Guard Station Ocean City (MD) about the dangers of aiming lasers at aircraft. For the Coast Guard, the main threat is that exposure to laser light can cause a search-and-rescue mission to be delayed — crew must complete a checklist of items if exposed — or even aborted.

Delaware Online reported from the event that “[l]asers have been a point of contention in Ocean City [MD] for years, with the council deciding to ban the sale of them last summer, and make it illegal to possess a laser pointer in public. Similar laws have gone into effect in New Jersey, but the Coast Guard hasn’t seen a decrease in laser strikes, [Lt. Shawn] Glavan said.”

According to The Dispatch, “Coast Guard Station Atlantic City, where [Glavan’s] MH-65 Dolphin [helicopter] is based, handles around two or three incidents a week involving individuals shining lasers on the aircraft. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City’s response area covers a large swath of the mid-Atlantic including Ocean City and as far south as Chincoteague.”

From DelawareOnline, CBS Baltimore and The Dispatch

US: New York area officials ask for public's help

At a September 20 2012 press conference at New Jersey State Police Headquarters, officials from the New York tri-state area asked the public’s help in identifying persons who aim lasers at aircraft. Such incidents occur about once per day at airports in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area.

A pilot from the Air Line Pilots Association told of his experiences when hit by laser light, and said that “Laser illumination can cause temporary blindness and even permanently damage a pilot’s eyes, potentially leading to an aircraft accident…Individuals must understand the danger and their responsibility to report anyone who misuses lasers.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is sending officers to schools near airports, to explain the hazards of lasers to children, and to warn them against aiming at aircraft.

An FBI agent said that the bureau is worried about adults and deliberate attacks by terrorists. Fines can range up to $11,000, said an FAA representative. a Coast Guard pilot said that rules requiring helicopters to break off rescues if they are directly lasered, adds to the risk of those the Coast Guard is trying to rescue.

The various law enforcement officials said they were asking the public to call 911 or local authorities if they see misuse, because laser incidents are so frequent and it is rare to apprehend the perpetrators.

A radio station public service announcement has been produced and aired by radio station NJ 101.5. It warns listeners not to aim at aircraft.

From NBC New York and New Jersey 101.5