A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
As of February 4, Califf’s nomination still awaited Senate approval.
Sen. Schumer, a Democrat from New York State, issued a statement saying “We’re only one month into 2016 and already there has been a green laser strike targeting aircrafts in the New York metropolitan area. We need to do something, and that is why I am pushing the FDA Commissioner nominee to act ahead of his confirmation. Green laser pointers have been a repeated danger to pilots across the country and I will continue to urge the FDA to use its authority and finally ban green, long-range, high-powered laser pointers once and for all.”
According to Newsday, there would be an exemption for professional uses. No additional details on the exemption criteria were available.
From Newsday (Note: accessing the article may require payment or answering survey questions)
The following is a press release issued by the Senator, followed by (after the “Read More:” link) a copy of the Senator’s letter to the FDA Commissioner:
Standing in the terminal at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range green laser pointers to the public. Schumer’s push comes on the heels of multiple incidents in which green lasers were pointed at aircraft and temporarily blinded and disoriented pilots mid-flight. This includes the recent incident two weeks ago when the pilot of a FedEx plane flying over Jamestown reported a green beam of light coming from a laser on the ground lighting up the aircraft. Schumer said that while it is lucky no one was harmed in the Jamestown incident or any other green laser attack, the federal government should act before a horrific event occurs, not after.
“Simply put: these green, long-range, high-powered laser pointers are a danger to our pilots and the hundreds of passengers whose lives depend on their eyesight and training. While we are very lucky the recent incident in Jamestown did not yield devastating results, we cannot sit idly by and wait for a horrific incident to occur before we act,” said Schumer. “That is why I am calling on the FDA to use its authority to regulate these dangerous devices. They're quickly becoming the weapon of choice for wrong-doers who want to harass our pilots and put passengers’ lives in jeopardy, and they should be banned before people are seriously hurt.”
Schumer said there has been a recent onslaught of green laser pointer attacks on aircraft that threaten the safety of pilots, passengers, and civilians on the ground. According to a USA Today report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded more than 5,300 laser strikes from January of this year through October 16, up from the more than 2,800 laser strikes reported in 2010. Schumer said numbers like these suggest a widespread misuse of the product and mean it should only be available to qualified professionals. According to the same USA Today report, between the night of November 11 and the morning of November 12, federal authorities reported 20 laser strikes on aircraft across the country, including the case in Jamestown. Schumer said the fact that the plane was flying more than 23,000 feet in the air shows how powerful these lasers are, and how dangerous they can be when they get into the wrong hands. As a result, Schumer is urging the FDA to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range green laser pointers to the public.
Laser pointers at one time were primarily used for presentation purposes in boardrooms and classrooms, they are now wildly available at trinket shops, flea markets, retailers and on the Internet, and are much more powerful. According to the FDA, laser pointers can be momentarily hazardous when staring directly at the beam. For pilots, these green lasers can cause flash blindness, a temporary or permanent loss of vision when the light-sensitive parts of the eye are exposed to an intensity of light they are not physically meant to handle. In addition, research suggests green lasers are more dangerous to the eye than red lasers because the light spectrum is more easily absorbed by the retina and more susceptible to damage. In fact, green lasers are considered to be more than double the strength of other colored lasers and can travel for miles, according to many media reports and health and aviation experts. Schumer there are certain types of lasers for which manufacturers must obtain FDA permission before they can be sold in the U.S., and green lasers should be included in that category so they are only sold to professionals, rather than would-be pranksters.
Because the FDA has the authority to regulate these lasers and their manufacturers, Schumer is strongly urging the federal agency to make high-powered, green laser pointers unavailable for public sale; they should be restricted to those with a specific professional purpose. Schumer said that while perpetrators convicted of pointing a laser at a plane can be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, they are often hard to track down following an incident. Because the products are merely required to have a warning label, Schumer said more must be done to limit public availability in order to protect public health and safety.
Schumer was joined by Adam Perry, Aviation Committee Chairman at the NFTA, Kimberly A. Minkel, NFTA Executive Director, and George Gast, NFTA Police Chief.
“I applaud Senator Schumer for his efforts to ensure the safety of our aviation industry,” said Kimberley A. Minkel, Executive Director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. “I hope the FDA responds to the senator’s request in a manner that will make it much more difficult for laser pointers to be available. Lasing is a serious crime that poses an imminent threat to aviation safety and could result in a pilot losing control of their aircraft, thus potentially causing mass casualties.”
Previously, the FDA has noted concern about the increased availability of some laser products. According to a March 2013 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), green lasers generate green light from infrared light, from which the eye cannot protect itself. In that NIST report, the agency noted that ideally, the device should be designed and manufactured to confine the infrared light within the laser housing. However, according to the NIST results, more than 75 percent of the devices tested emitted infrared light in excess of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) limit.
Schumer said in New York incidents of green lasers pointed at aircraft have been numerous and significant. In addition to the most recent one in Jamestown, there were 39 laser incidents between January 1, 2015 and May 15, 2015 in New York City alone. In 2014, there were 17 green laser incidents out of a total 19 laser incidents at JFK airport; 37 green laser incidents out of a total 41 laser incidents at LaGuardia Airport; 20 green laser incidents out of a total 28 at Newark.
There are four major hazard classes (I to IV) of lasers, including three subclasses (IIa, IIIa, IIIb). The higher the class, the more powerful the laser. Consumer laser products include classes I, II and IIIa and lasers for professional use may be in classes IIIb and IV. Laser pointers are included in Class IIIa. The FDA requires warning labels on most laser products, including the power output and the hazard class of the product. Some lasers are strictly for use by medical, industrial or entertainment professionals and can only be used by a person with a license and training.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FDA appears below: [click on the “Read More…” link]
Click to read more...
Except for the involvement of multiple helicopters in New York City, the twenty November 11 overnight events were actually close to the current 2015 average of the 18.3 reported incidents per night.
It is normal for day-to-day incident numbers to fluctuate. For example, a day later on November 12, there were six incidents according to Slate.
Another example of the variability of daily incidents is shown by the day-to-day numbers for 2014. During the year there was an overall average of 10.7 incidents per day. The graph shows that daily numbers (light line) varied from 0 reported laser incidents to 24. (The dark line shows a 30-day moving average, to help smooth out the data. Day-to-day figures for 2015 are not yet available.)
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration made a Facebook post describing the November 11 incidents:
More than 20 aircraft were struck by lasers from the ground last night while flying over cities across the United States. Three laser strikes were reported in the New York City/Newark, N.J early in the evening, followed by three incidents in Texas, where jets were struck while preparing to land at Dallas Love Field. By late evening, pilots reported laser incidents in:
New York/Newark; Dallas; Jamestown, NY; Oakland, CA; Covington, KY; Danville, KY; Palm Springs, CA; Salt Lake City; Los Angeles; Albuquerque; Detroit; Ontario, CA; St. Petersburg, FL; Springfield, IL; San Juan, PR; Sacramento
None of the pilots reported injuries. Nevertheless, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime that the U.S. vigorously pursues. Lasers distract pilots from their safety duties and can lead to temporary blindness during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. In some cases in the past, pilots have reported eye injuries that required medical treatment.
As of Oct. 16, the total number of laser strikes around the U.S. this year was 5,352.
Media stories that referenced the incidents included the following headlines and leads:
With new flurry overnight, laser strikes on aircraft hit record pace, USA Today
“Laser strikes on planes are growing even as the federal government enacts tougher penalties for people caught shining the devices. Overnight Thursday federal authorities fielded reports of more than 20 laser strikes on aircraft, adding to an already record-breaking number of strikes this year.”
Overnight outbreak of lasers pointed at aircraft, CBS Evening News
“The FAA says 20 aircraft were targeted by people with bright laser pointers Wednesday night in cities across the nation. Kris Van Cleave reports on the surge in these types of incidents.”
FAA: Lasers beams hit more than 20 aircraft overnight, Washington Post
“Federal authorities have launched an investigation after numerous aircraft were hit by laser beams Wednesday night. More than 20 aircraft were struck while in flight over at least 16 U.S. cities, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration. Authorities said three strikes were reported to the FAA in the New York City area, followed by three in Texas that hit jets that were preparing to land.”
Lasers hit 20 aircraft flying in U.S. overnight - FAA, Reuters
“Dangerous beams from handheld lasers struck 20 aircraft flying over the United States and its territories overnight, among the nearly 5,400 laser hits in the nation so far this year, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday. No injuries were reported in the incidents, which took place from New York City to Sacramento, and resulted in at least one arrest. Authorities said the incidents did not appear to be linked to each other.”
6 aircraft hit by lasers in New York, Dallas on Wednesday, Fox News
“Three news helicopters in New York and three planes near Dallas were hit by laser beams on Wednesday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots for choppers flying for CBS New York, WNBC and WABC each described seeing a laser in their cockpit while flying over a scene in Park Slope, Brooklyn, CBS reported.”
High Number Of Laser Strikes In One Night Has Pilots Uneasy, CBS Sacramento
“The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into a series of laser strikes on aircraft across the country, including a possible strike at Sacramento International Airport. The exact details of that reported laser strike have not been made available yet, but for pilots these little beams of light are a huge concern. It was a busy night for law enforcement and air traffic control across the nation, with more than 20 pilots reporting laser pointers aimed at their cockpits.”
Schumer made the announcement at a Sunday press conference in his Manhattan office, along with four commercial airline pilots who had been illuminated by laser light. One pilot, Gabe Rubin, said he knew of a pilot who “suffered severe eye damage from a green laser pointer [and] will never fly again.”
Schumer said “Green lasers are the weapons of choice being used for evil purposes. We know terrorists are always looking for areas of weak points.”
He is focused on green pointers because they are apparently preferred by pranksters because the green light travels farther, and “because the light spectrum of green is more easily absorbed by the retina and then causes more damage”, according to the senator.
In 2012, Schumer wrote a letter to the U.S. FDA saying that laser pointers’ power should be less than the current 5 mW limit, that FDA should restrict more powerful Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (500+ mW) lasers, and that FDA should require warning labels about aiming at aircraft.
From Newsday and CBS New York. The text of Sen. Schumer’s press release is below (click the “Read more…” link).
Click to read more...
The October 7 2014 story was a follow-up to an incident at an NFL football game on October 5, when Buffalo Bills players complained of lasers being aimed at them during a game with the Detroit Lions. The NFL and police were said to be investigating.
USA Today’s Martin Rogers wrote that Dr. Robert Josephberg “has lobbied members of Congress for more than a year to discuss criminalizing intentionally dangerous use of laser pointers, to no avail. Josephberg told the newspaper that intentional shining of a laser at someone should be a felony: “There has been a significant increase in medical journals of reports of blindness caused by the lasers. The use seems to be increasing – and so does the power and availability of the pointers. Congress needs to take note.”
In a February 28 2011 story in the New York Times, Josephberg recounted how he saw a high-school student who had a blind spot from a 50 milliwatt green laser pointer. At first he did not believe that lasers were available that could cause such an injury. But he bought a 100 milliwatt laser for $28 online; Times writer Christine Negroni said “he could hardly believe how easy it was.”
A June 2011 article in the magazine of Westchester (NY) Medical Center, where Josephberg works, quoted the doctor as saying “I contacted new Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth of the 19th Congressional District, who is an ophthalmologist herself. We are working with her, trying to write a bill that addresses this problem.”
From USA Today, the New York Times and ”Health & Life” magazine from Westchester Medical Center
The New York state bill seems to be more restrictive than U.S. federal law, which simply prohibits aiming a laser at an aircraft or its flight path. The New York law appears to require both intent to disrupt or interfere with the aircraft, and the laser’s power to be above a certain level. (Specifically, it is only a violation if “the calculated or measured beam irradiance on the aircraft, or in the immediate vicinity of the aircraft, exceeds limits set by the FAA for the FAA-specified laser flight zone [Normal, Sensitive, Critical or Laser-Free] where the aircraft was located.”)
In addition, if a pilot in the illuminated aircraft does not file a laser incident report with the FAA, there is no New York state violation.
Click to read more...
The paper, ranked 13th in the country with a circulation of 393,000 weekday subscribers, said “It’s a serious offense that should be firmly punished…. Heavy fines, and in some cases, jail time, would send a powerful message that it’s a life-threatening crime.”
The editorial was the result of incidents in the Long Island area in the past month. It was titled “Enforce anti-laser laws with laser-like force.”
From Newsday. Subscriber information from USA Today.
From the New York Post
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
From the Associated Press via the Wall Street Journal. To read the text of Schumer’s letter to the FDA, and his press release, click the Read More link below.
Click to read more...
From the New York Times. Readers of the Times article may also be interested in clarifications, tips and links compiled by LaserPointerSafety.com.
The article listed four injuries to youths. In three of the incidents, a young person deliberately stared into a laser beam, while the fourth was caused by a high-schooler whose friend waved a 50 mW laser in his face. (Besides these anecdotal accounts, the article gave no overall statistics on injuries except to say that an ophthalmologist association is “unaware of any increase in eye injuries caused by lasers.”)
Author Christine Negroni covered a number of topics, including:
- There has been “ninefold increase over five years” in laser illuminations of aircraft
- Eye doctors are “shocked” that high-powered lasers are available on the Internet with no purchase restrictions.
- A U.K. physician says the U.S. limit should be 1 mW, that even at 5 mW laser pointers have “acute” dangers.
- FDA says that noncompliant (“illegal”) lasers are available despite agency seizures.
- Wicked Lasers says that its products are compliant, that they are “extremely clear” about eye and fire hazards on their webpages, and that they will be offering online safety lessons “before checkout”.
- A “large community” of laser enthusiasts wants to keep lasers available.
- An 18-year-old laser hobbyist, who wears goggles and is supervised by his parents, said he was learning about electronics, soldering, physics, light, optics and mechanics.
From the New York Times, online on Feb. 28 2011, in print on March 1 2011 on page D5 of the National edition.