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US: Laser incidents nearly double in 2015 to 7,703

The number of FAA-reported laser incidents nearly doubled in 2015, to 7,703. This is a significant increase over the 2010-2014 period, which had hovered around 3,500-4,000 incidents per year.

2004-2015 incidents annually 450w

Here is the same data, presented to show the number of incidents per day:

2004-2015 incidents per day 450w

Below is a closeup of the 2014-2015 data. The thin light blue line represents the number of incidents on each day. Note the wide variability, from as few as no reports in a day (May 27 2014) to as many as 65 on December 11 2015.The thick blue line is a 30-day moving average, to smooth out the data.

2014-2015 FAA reported laser incidents 400w

2014-2015 incidents 450w

Both charts show identical data. On the second chart, two dates have been highlighted. Around July 1 2015, the number of incidents per day (light blue line) starts to increase. The only significant change that LaserPointerSafety.com can find around that time, is that on July 16 (purple line) there was widespread nationwide publicity about 11 flights that were illuminated on July 15 in and around New Jersey.

However, this event is not a full explanation. While the publicity may have triggered a “copycat” effect, it is apparent from both the thin and thick lines that incidents had been increasing at least two weeks prior to July 16.

Another date with widespread nationwide publicity is marked, November 12 2015 (red line). Three news helicopters and a police helicopter were illuminated in New York City the night before. Again, while there is some increase in incidents after that date, there also was a consistent increase from July through November.

Based on this analysis, “Copycat” laser use does not seem to be a significant factor in the near-doubling of 2015 laser incidents.

Canada: Laser statistics for 2010, 2011 and Q1 2012

Transport Canada reported that 183 aircraft were illuminated by lasers in 2010 while 229 were illuminated in 2011. This represents a 25% increase from 2010 to 2011. Between January 1 and March 31 2012, there were 51 incidents nationwide. The following is a province-by-province breakdown:

Pic 2012-05-28 at 12.49.19 PM

According to the Toronto Star, from January 1 to late May 2012 there have been 36 laser incidents at Pearson International and other Toronto-area airports, and 100 incidents nationwide. (This is probably based on their own analysis of the CADORS incident database since the Transport Canada chart above only went through the first quarter of 2012.)

WestJet has arranged for a Calgary-based ophthalmologist to examine pilots’ eyes after laser incidents. A spokesperson said “We want to have an individual identified in every major city so we can send that (pilot) right away to be tested.”

Canada lags other countries in aggressively prosecuting offenders, according to the chair of the flight safety division of the Air Canada Pilots Association: “The judicial system should apply the law to its maximum extent rather than soft-shoeing around the issue.” At the federal level, aiming a “directed bright light” at an aircraft is illegal under the Aeronautics Act. The maximum penalties are a prison term of five years and a fine of $100,000.

From the Toronto Star; chart courtesy Transport Canada

UPDATE, May 30 2012: At LaserPointerSafety.com’s request, Transport Canada analyzed first quarter incident statistics for the past three years. They found 29 incidents in Q1 2010, 27 incidents in Q1 2011, and 53 incidents in Q1 2012. (Note that they found two additional Q1 2012 incidents which were not included in the province-by-province breakdown above.) A Transport Canada spokesperson speculated that reasons for increased incidents in general may include increased awareness and reporting by pilots, and “copycat” actions by persons who would not think to aim a laser at aircraft until they hear news reports of incidents.

Russia: Jail proposed for laser "hooligans"; media asked to not report incidents

The United Russia party has introduced legislation calling for 10-year jail terms for laser “hooligans”. The bill was sent to the lower house of the Russian Parliament, the State Duma. It is unclear from news reports whether the legislation’s 10-year penalty is simply for aiming at or illuminating an aircraft, or if it is for cases that result in deaths.

The Moscow Times said Rostov-on-Don’s police chief wanted a 10-year term for people who blind pilots if their actions result in deaths. Alexi Lapin also blamed media attention for encouraging copycats: “Publicity in the media only encourages them to act. In medicine, this is called an epidemic, and it has yet to peak.”

Others agreed with the police chief’s media theory, including the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who banned laser pointer sales (and by some media accounts, possession) on July 4 2011. A senior Transportation Ministry official asked media to stop covering the incidents: "Judging by the European experience, the less information there is on the issue, the fewer cases"

The attention comes after more than 50 reports of “laser hooliganism” thus far this year in Russia. This compares with five incidents in all of 2010.

From RIA Novosti., the Moscow Times and Bloomberg. See also other LaserPointerSafety.com stories about Russian aviation incidents and laser statistics.