A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

ILDA and safe use of outdoor laser shows

The following information has been provided by the International Laser Display Association (ILDA).

There has been a lot of press coverage about laser illuminations of aircraft in the United States. ILDA would like to stress that these reports are NOT from federally-regulated laser light shows. Instead, consumers are misusing laser pointers by aiming them at planes and helicopters.

Potential clients and audience members should know that U.S. legal outdoor laser shows are reviewed by both aviation officials (FAA) and laser safety officials (FDA). This is why laser light shows are NOT a problem.

Laser show in Miami during Super Bowl week, courtesy LaserNet.

How U.S. federal laser show laws work

In the United States, all outdoor laser shows must be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plans must comply with FAA Advisory Circular 70-1 in terms of beam location, power and brightness. FAA will advise if any changes are needed. Once any objections have been met, FAA issues a "Letter of Non-Objection”. This means that the show as submitted is not a hazard to aviation and thus FAA will not object to the show..

Even then, the show is further reviewed for safety compliance by the Food and Drug Administration. If FAA does not object, and FDA sees no additional concerns, the outdoor laser show then receives an FDA "variance" so it can legally proceed.

Conscientious laser companies are well aware of FAA and FDA requirements. This is why there has not been a problem with illuminations from legal laser light shows for well over a decade.

Past shows (before the problem was understood)

Sometimes in the press you may see mention of incidents which occurred in the 1990s, especially around Las Vegas. These were legal shows, done with FDA’s knowledge and approval. At the time, the only concern at the time was that the light level be eye-safe (below MPE limits). No one realized that bright light could be a problem. When pilots were alarmed that the light was distracting or even flashblinding, the shows were immediately shut down while the problem was studied.

Since the mid-1990s, ILDA has worked in the SAE G10T subcommittee with FDA, FAA, pilots and others to come up with the new procedures embodied in Advisory Circular 70-1. These procedures have essentially eliminated problems from legal, federally-reviewed outdoor laser shows.

Lasers make outdoor events special

Outdoor laser shows are spectacular events -- that's why they're used so often at major sporting events (Olympics, Super Bowl), holiday celebrations and special events. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact ILDA. You can have confidence that lasers at your event will be safe and awe-inspiring.