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2010 FAA study of laser incidents, 2004-2008

In December 2010 the FAA released a study of 2,492 events where civilian aircraft were illuminated by lasers in the United States, from Jan. 1 2004 to Dec. 31 2008.

Key results include:

  • The number of reported incidents increased steadily each year: 2004, 46; 2005, 337; 2006, 446; 2007, 675; and 2008, 988.

  • The “cockpit environment” was illuminated by the beam in 67% (1676) of the events.

  • In 11% (184) of the 1676 cockpit illuminations, pilots reported one or more adverse effects including annoyance/distraction (68), glare/flashblindness/afterimage (96), operational problems (52) and pain/injury (30).

  • In 3.5% (58) of the 1676 cockpit illuminations, an arrest was made.

  • Most of the incidents (73%) involved commercial carriers; general aviation accounted for just 18% of all event reports. Helicopters were involved in 7% of events.

  • Most incidents occurred on approach (69%), which is the most hazardous time for an illumination to occur.

  • Eighteen percent of incidents occurred when an aircraft was not in FAA-mandated laser protection zones. “These were primarily law enforcement or medical helicopters that were likely enroute to or from crime scenes or medical facilities at the time of the incident.” Based on this, the report recommends that “safety guidelines should be considered for all aircraft that fly at or below 2000 feet AGL [above ground level], even when not in the vicinity of an airport.”

  • Green lasers were used in 92% of the events when a laser color was reported.

The study conclusion stated “The increasing percentage of aircraft laser illuminations reported at or below 2,000 feet that involve green laser light may represent an escalating threat to aviation safety. Low-flying aircraft, which may not be within currently established flight hazard zones around airports, need protection due to their increased vulnerability to laser illumination and their close proximity to obstacles and terrain.”

A summary of the study, The Illumination of Aircraft at Altitude by Laser Beams: A 5-Year Study Period (2004-2008), is here at the FAA website. The complete report, authored by Van B. Nakagawara, Ronald W. Montgomery and Kathryn J. Wood, is available as a 12-page PDF document, FAA report #DOT/FAA/AM-10/21.