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US: GAO report says less than 1% of laser-aircraft incidents result in fines or prosecution

The August 18 2022 U.S. General Accounting Office report to Congress about aviation laser safety contains statistics on laser perpetrators.

From July 2016 through September 2020, there were about 27,000 laser incidents reported by pilots to FAA.

Of these, 232 suspects were identified (0.86%). The "overwhelming majority… involved illumination of police and media aircraft", primarily helicopters that can hover over a scene. This hovering makes it much easier to identify perpetrators' locations, compared with fixed-wing aircraft that often cannot deviate from their route to chase after perpetrators.


FAA took civil action against 99 of the 232 suspects:

     • Assessed civil penalties against 70 of the 99 subjects. These civil penalties ranged from $50 to $27,338.29
     • Proposed but had not assessed civil penalties against 17 of the 99 subjects.
     • Ordered administrative actions (e.g. issuing warning notices to subjects) against three subjects
     • Issued compliance actions (e.g. counseling) against eight subjects.
     • Referred one case to the government of Canada for legal action because the subject was a Canadian resident.

This chart shows what happened to the remaining 133 suspects:

Pic 2022-08-18 at 3.23.44 PM

To summarize, out of 27,000 laser incidents there have been 70 persons fined so far (0.26%). There is the possibility of fining an additional 45 persons (17 proposed, 28 pending). If every one of these additional 45 persons was fined, that would make a total of 115 persons who would be fined (0.43%).

Thus, less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all laser incidents reported to FAA result in a fine or potential fine.


In addition, there were criminal prosecutions. From the GAO report:

"According to our analysis, the FBI and other federal entities referred 86 laser incidents to USAOs for prosecution from July 2016 through September.32 Our analysis shows USAOs prosecuted 44 subjects, resulting in 40 convictions. In 23 of the 40 convictions, the subject received no term of imprisonment, while 15 subjects were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 3 months to 51 months."

"FBI officials told us federal prosecution may be more likely if a subject is suspected in a cluster of laser incidents, if a law enforcement aircraft was lased and a mission was interrupted, or if a subject had prior offenses, among other criteria."

Forty convictions out of 27,000 incidents is 0.15%. The 15 subjects imprisoned represent 0.06% of the incidents.

The report does not state if any of the criminal cases overlap with the FAA civil cases (e.g., a case is counted twice — once for FAA and once for criminal actions).

Data from the GAO's full 46-page report.