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US: New York State law criminalizes aiming lasers at aircraft or flight path

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo on July 24 2014, signed into law a bill making it a crime to aim a laser at an aircraft or the flight path of an aircraft. The bill takes effect on November 1 2014.

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.
As with federal law, exceptions are granted for authorized flight tests involving lasers; official operations of the U.S. Defense or Homeland Security department; use to attract attention in a bona fide emergency; or if FAA granted permission for the use. (See full text of the bill here.)

A violation is a class A misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one year in prison. In addition, if the laser causes a significant change in course or other serious disruption which threatens the safety of the passengers or crew, the offense becomes a class E felony, which can result in up to four years in prison.

The bill, S7418-A/A 8236-C, was introduced by New York state Senator James Sanders Jr. and Assemblyman Steve Otis. JFK International Airport is in Sanders’ district. He and Otis said “Although this action has been illegal under federal law since 2012, incidents involving smaller airports outside the New York City area are oftentimes ignored. This new legislation protects all New York airports, by allowing local law enforcement to prosecute offenders who put the lives of passengers and pilots in danger.”

The bill passed the Assembly on June 17 and the Senate on June 19.

From the Long Island Exchange: July 24, upon signing of the bill; June 20, after passage by the state Senate.