A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

UK: BALPA calls for high-powered lasers to be treated as offensive weapons

The British Airline Pilots’ Association called for greater regulation of lasers and drones, at a Trades Union Congress meeting in Brighton on September 14 2016.

BALPA noted that there were 1,439 reports of laser attacks in 2015, and that 55% of pilots experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months. A spokesperson said BALPA “has been campaigning for a long time for high-powered lasers to be treated as what they are — offensive weapons.”

The association was also concerned with the threat of incidents involving drones.

A motion to ask for improved regulations passed at the meeting.

From a BALPA press release

US: Pilot group forms to combat laser strikes

A group of pilots has formed Pilots Against Laser Strikes, LLC. The group’s mission statement says the non-profit volunteer organization is “dedicated to educating and informing the public of the dangers of laser strikes on aircraft and reducing the number of laser strikes that occurs on a daily basis.”

Pilots Against Laser Strikes logo smaller 250w

On the education side, volunteers will visit schools and airports to provide information about why people should not aim lasers at aircraft.

On the legislative side, the group wants to create a National Laser Registration List for Class 4 lasers (those over 500 milliwatts of power), with federal law mandating registration.

PALS was founded in March 2016 by pilot Craig Pieper, who was illuminated by green laser light in December 2015 while on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. The organization’s website is at pilotsagainstlaserstrikes.org.

From Aero Crew News August 2016, pp. 26-27 and Metropolitan Airport News, August 2016, p. 10.

UK: Consumer lasers hazardous up close, but will not injure pilots, say 3 top UK experts

Three top U.K. laser safety experts published an overview of consumer laser hazards in the April 19 2016 British Journal of Ophthalmology. The key finding that made news (at sources such as CNN, ABC and the Daily Mail) was that lasers aimed at aircraft have not caused eye injuries to pilots, and are not likely to do so.

But in addition to this declaration, the authors also provided a succinct summary of the current state of consumer laser pointer misuse, and how ophthalmologists should proceed when studying a patient’s laser exposure.

Experts John Marshall, John O’Hagan and John Tyrer began by noting that low-powered Class 2 (less than 1 milliwatt) and Class 3R (1-5 mW) lasers “are not an eye hazard, and even if used inappropriately will not cause permanent eye damage.”

However, consumer laser devices with Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (above 500 mW) powers have begun to cause injuries. “….[C]lass 4 devices are capable of causing irreversible retinal damage if directed into the eye over short ranges, up to several metres. Such devices have resulted in foveal injuries in children with current estimates of 150 cases in the UK. The [UK] media has given significant coverage to this growing problem.”

Ophthalmologists were advised that in cases of close up exposure, there may potentially be permanent damage. A detailed examination would be warranted, although there is no treatment to reverse permanent damage.

The hazards from this short range misuse differ from the hazards of aiming a laser towards pilots. Because the laser-to-aircraft distance is typically “hundreds to thousands of metres”, and because of scattering from the windscreen, eye injuries are nonexistent: “Fortunately, these exposures are at irradiances that are incapable of producing irreversible retinal damage even at distances of 100 m.”

They said that only one case of alleged retinal damage has been reported in pilots. [LPS.com note: this is for publicly available reports involving civilian pilots.] The experts concluded the case is suspect for a number of reasons; they do not believe laser targeting caused the alleged injury.

Marshall, O’Hagan and Tyrer turned from injuries to the hazards of distracting pilots with bright laser lights: “Obviously, if such a distraction occurs at a critical time such as during landing then the result could be devastating.”

For ophthalmologists examining pilots, if there are no permanent abnormalities on an Amsler grid test, the physician should not do any detailed eye exam, as this “would only serve to compromise the pilot's vision for a longer period.” The authors noted that pilots may delay seeing an expert for “many hours or a day or so during which there may be a growing psychological element.”

In an interview with CNN, Marshall said the findings on pilot hazards are based on previous laser safety research as well as a new study done with field experiments at a military base over about three years.

In the BJO editorial, the three experts agreed that current laser safety standards and guidelines are based on valid experiments and science. The standards do not need to be revised, “…but clearly further attempts must be made to educate the public.”

The editorial concluded “The European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation bodies to produce a standard specifically for consumer laser products. This should allow enforcing authorities to remove unsafe products from the market. However, compliance by manufacturers will remain an issue, as will direct imports by the public purchasing unsafe laser products over the internet.”

From the British Journal of Ophthalmology editorial “Eye hazards of laser ‘pointers’ in perspective” by John Marshall, John O’Hagan, and John Tyrer, available in HTML text and as a PDF document. Click on the blue “Read More…” link below for an April 19 2016 press release from the BJO summarizing the paper’s findings relative to pilot hazards.
  Click to read more...

Canada: 590 laser/aircraft incidents in 2015; pilot group wants handheld lasers classed as weapons

Transport Canada received 590 reports of laser illuminations of aircraft in 2015, according to a February 16 2016 news story by CBC News. They reported that this is up 17% from 2014, and is three times the 2009 figure of around 120 reports.

The head of the Air Canada Pilots Association said that the figures show that education is not working, and handheld lasers should be designated as prohibited weapons.

From CBC News. Note that a few days later, the Ottawa Citizen did an analysis of Transport Canada’s database which shows different figures: 663 laser incidents in 2015, which is up 32% from the 2014 total of 502.

Canada: After 461 lasings in 2013, pilots want stricter penalties plus government controls on lasers

The president of Canada’s largest pilots’ group, the Air Canada Pilots’ Association, wants to make aiming a laser at an aircraft a Criminal Code offense. The Aeronautics Act already makes this illegal, with up to five years in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine, but it is not a criminal offense. The group feels their proposal would be a significant deterrence.

In addition, Capt. Craig Blandford said “We’d (also) like to see a control put on them, some kinds of permits or access to these things that’s somehow controlled. I’m not sure to go so far as to say we want them on a prohibited weapons list, but that’s one of the things that we’re pursuing in order to get stricter on control.”

In 2013, there were 461 laser/aircraft incidents reported to Transport Canada, as compared with 357 in 2012. As of February 12, there have been 44 incidents in Canada during 2014.

From the Ottawa Citizen. The story includes additional details on Canada statistics and the pilots’ proposals.

Australia: UFO hunters warned to avoid aircraft

UFO hunters in Australia are aiming laser pointers at the sky to cause them to “power up” and contact humans. A pilot responded by warning of the dangers of aiming lasers at lights in the sky.

Barry Jackson, an A380 pilot and former president of a pilot’s association, cautioned in early January 2014 that this can be “extremely dangerous” for aircraft that are landing.

UFO hunter Alan Ferguson agreed with Jackson’s characterization of the danger. Ferguson lives in Acacia Hills, about 35 miles from Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. His website, UFOterritory.com.au, contains videos and descriptions of sightings, including some videos of lasers being used to contact or power up UFOs.

Ferguson noted that he and his UFO-hunting associates are “very professional ... and can see the difference between a UFO and a plane ... Especially when they just appear and then move off then stop again, no planes do that.” He said persons who do aim at aircraft are “idiots” and should be prosecuted.

On January 4 2014, laser pointers were aimed at aircraft landing at Darwin International Airport. Ferguson said neither he nor visiting associates used lasers during that time.

Persons who shine a laser pointer at aircraft in the Northern Territory can be jailed for up to four years.

laser aimed at UFO

UFO powering up due to laser

Two frames from a
YouTube video shot January 4 2014 by Peter Maxwell Slattery, using a night vision monocular. The first frame shows Slattery aiming a laser at a dot moving steadily across the sky from right to left. The next frame is from a few seconds later and shows the “power up” effect. A YouTube search for “UFO laser pointer” brings up numerous videos with titles such as “UFO’s respond to laser pointers” and “UFO inspects my laser pointer”.


From NT News and the Herald Sun, via Open Minds. See also these other UFO-related laser pointer stories at LaserPointerSafety.com.

US: FAA updates laser reporting method in AC 70-2A

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on February 8 2013 updated how pilots are to report laser incidents to the agency. This was done in Advisory Circular 70-2A, “Reporting of Laser Illumination of Aircraft”, which replaces the older AC 70-2 which was first introduced January 11 2005.

The changes include:
  • Air Traffic Control can now regard a laser illumination of aircraft incident as an “in-flight emergency”, due to the potential debilitating injuries which could compromise safety and interfere with aircrew duties.
  • New web-based methods by which pilots can report incidents
  • Additional information in the Resources and the Related Documents sections

The key part of the document is the reporting procedure: “On arrival at destination, all aircrews that have been affected by an unauthorized laser illumination are requested to complete the Laser Beam Exposure Questionnaire. The questionnaire is located on the FAA’s Laser Safety Initiative Web site at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/ and can be electronically submitted. The questionnaire may also be printed and faxed to the WOCC at (202) 267-5289, ATTN: DEN, or emailed to laserreports@faa.gov.”

From FAA Advisory Circular 70-2A

UK: Pilots want jail for persons aiming laser pens at aircraft

The British Airline Pilots’ Association warned about the hazards of laser pens directed at aircraft, and called for prison sentences for the perpetrators. They noted that there were more than 1,500 incidents in 2012, with “only a handful of those responsible” being prosecuted.

BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan asked for a government cross-agency summit to address the problem. BALPA requested stronger regulations restricting the sale of high-powered lasers, more prosecutions, and action taken through trading standards.

He said that hotspots include airports at Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Heathrow.

From ITV London and ITV Granada

US: FAA updates pilot reporting questionnaire

For 2013, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has developed a new questionnaire for pilots who report laser illumination incidents. The goal was to capture more detailed information about the incident, its effect on the aircrew, and on the aircraft’s flight and mission. New questions include:

Flight information
  • Aircraft type: Airplane, rotorcraft, lighter than air, other
  • Type of operation: Commercial aviation, general aviation, military, law enforcement, medical, news reporting, other
  • Time of day: Daytime, around sunset, dusk/twilight, nighttime before midnight local time, nighttime on or after midnight local time, around sunrise, dawn/morning twilight
  • Phase of flight: Taxi, takeoff, climb to altitude, cruise altitude, descent, final approach, landing, low-altitude, hover, other

Effect on flight
  • Did the laser interfere with crew duties? Yes (describe), no
  • Did the laser cause a change in flight path? No, minor/non-adverse change, major/adverse change
  • Did the laser disrupt a law enforcement, medical or military mission? Yes (describe), no

Illumination details
  • Did the laser appear to track the aircraft? Yes, no, other
  • Did the laser illuminate any part of the cockpit? Yes, no, other
  • Did the laser shine directly into one or both of your eyes? Did not shine directly, shined a little, shined brightly

Effect on illuminated pilots or crew
  • Choose from a list of vision effects: None, glare, temporary flashblindness or afterimages, blind spot(s), blurry vision, significant loss of night vision, other
  • Choose from a list of physical effects: None, watering eyes, eye discomfort/pain, headache, shock, disorientation or dizziness, other
  • Did you rub your eye after exposure: No, a little, vigorously

If there was an eye exam
  • Type of doctor who did the most comprehensive exam: Retinal specialist, ophthalmologist, optometrist, optician, emergency room doctor/nurse, other
  • List results of the exam

Prior laser knowledge
  • Did you have any prior knowledge or training? None, basic info, detailed specific info on how to “recognize and recover”, simulator training with laser or laser-like exposure, other

From FAA Laser Beam Exposure Questionnaire

New Zealand: Pilots want laser pointers prohibited

Officials with the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association said they want a ban on Class 3 laser pointers, similar to Australian restrictions that classify the devices as weapons.

The pilots expressed concern following the September 2012 conviction of a teenager who aimed a green pointer at three commercial aircraft and a police helicopter in January 2012.

The NZALPA president said “It has reached a stage where any member of the public can purchase a commercial grade laser and do what they please with it.”

From Radio New Zealand and Voxy

Israel: Advanced anti-laser filter announced

A newly developed anti-laser filter works by blocking laser light based not just on the wavelength (color) as with traditional filters, but based also on the light level (irradiance). KiloLambda Technologies of Tel Aviv says their filter “is clear at all wavelengths until it is hit by an incoming power above a certain level. Below the threshold, the filter has high transmission over the whole spectral band, but when the input power exceeds the threshold, transmission is either limited to a certain value or blocked completely."

It is not clear whether the filter is available at this time (May 2012). The company intends to incorporate it into glasses and night-vision goggles worn by pilots, to protect against flash blindness, meaning power densities from 100 µW/cm² up to 1000 µW/cm².

From Optics.org

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.

New Zealand: 100 incidents in 2011; pilots want Class 3 laser imports banned

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association (NZALPA) has called for a ban on importation of Class 3 and 4 lasers. President Glen Kenny said that laser “strikes” have been increasing and “It has reached a stage where any member of the public can purchase a commercial grade laser and do what they please with it.” A ban would mean that only lasers with powers below 1 milliwatt could be imported for the general public.

There are currently no restrictions on the public’s ownership of lasers in New Zealand.

NZALPA’s technical director Stu Julian told TV ONE that if the laser incidents continue, they could cause a crash due to distracting a pilot when they have minimal reaction time.

According to the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, there were 100 laser pointer incidents in 2011, with 40 of those at the Auckland airport. A spokesperson for the Eagle police helicopter said the crew had lasers pointed at them “all the time. It happens fairly often and it’s a real risk to the crew.”

From MSN NZ, TVNZ, Scoop NZ, and the New Zealand Herald. The text of a Feb. 7 2012 press release from NZALPA is below (after the “Read More” link). Thanks to Mark Wardle of NZALPA for bringing this to our attention. The New Zealand Herald link has a list of selected New Zealand laser incidents. To find all aviation incidents from New Zealand reported at LaserPointerSafety.com, click here.
Click to read more...

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.
.

US: FAA urges pilots, public to report incidents on new webpage

The Federal Aviation Administration announced a new web page that consolidates information about laser incidents and reporting. As of October 27 2011, the page has the following five sections:
  • Reporting Laser Incidents: How to report an incident, for pilots, air traffic control officials, and the general public
  • U.S. Laser Incidents by Year: A simple table listing incidents each year since 2005
  • Laser Events and Civil Penalties: Press releases about the number of incidents in 2010 and about the June 2011 decision to impose civil fines of up to $11,000. Also, the legal interpretation justifying imposition of the fines.
  • Hazards of Laser Illumination: Links to background information for pilots, and two studies of the issue by FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute
  • Planning Light Shows and Other Outdoor Laser Operations: Information and forms for persons planning to use lasers outdoors

Below is the FAA press release announcing the web page:Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - Myrtle Beach CAP official witholds safety flights after being charged for confiscating laser pointer from 12-year-old (+ 2 updates)

The commander of the Myrtle Beach Civil Air Patrol was arrested October 12 2011 for confiscating a laser pointer being misused by a 12-year-old boy. Stephen Teachout was riding his scooter when he saw the boy pointing a green laser at a passing motorcycle, moped and Teachout’s scooter. Teachout went into the boy’s yard, grabbed his arm, took the pointer, then drove away on his scooter. Teachout was charged with third-degree assault and petty larceny. The boy was also given a juvenile summons for public disorderly conduct.

Stephen Teachout laser
Stephen Teachout

In retaliation, Teachout said the three-pilot Civil Air Patrol would not provide help to Horry County (where Mytle Beach is located) for certain calls including offshore missing persons and forest fires. According to the Sun News, Teachout said “I support Horry County but if they don’t have [the pilots’] backs then no thanks. We don’t need to be here.”

Click to read more...

Grenada: Increasing incidents

A number of pilots have reported lasers being aimed at their aircraft, reports the Grenada Airports Authority. The incidents occur when landing at Maurice Bishop International Airport.

Violators could be charged with interfering with air crew duties. The Authority is looking for the laser perpetrator(s), and has posted notices in newspapers stating that shining lights at aircraft is “a security offense”. Also, several pilots have filed complaints with the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority.

From the
Virgin Islands News Online

Canada: Pilots want lasing to be a criminal offense

The Air Canada Pilots Association, the largest pilots’ union in the country, has asked Transport Canada for new federal laws to make lasing an aircraft a criminal offense. A spokesperson said this would lead to better education of laser users: “Having it added to the Criminal Code would strengthen the understanding that what they are doing is illegal.”

Currently, violations of the Aeronautics Act can lead to fines of up to $100,000 and up to five years in prison. Despite this, laser illuminations continue to occur.

In 2010, there were 182 reported laser pointing incidents. Ontario had the highest number, 69, followed by Quebec with 53 incidents. Transport Canada and the ACPA said this was due to increased reporting, copycat laser use, and the increased availability of laser pens and pointers.

“This is just like shooting a gun at an airplane around [an] airport,” according to Nick Stoss, formerly with the Transportation Safety Board.

From Global Winnipeg

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...