FAA Concerned About Laser Pointer Effects on Pilots

Ian Gregor
Ian Gregor

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Some pilots flying over Oahu are being greeted with annoying and potentially-dangerous beams of light. The Federal Aviation Administration blames laser pointers in a string of new cases.

It's a small device that can create big problems for pilots. In the past week, the FAA received three reports of incidents in which someone on the ground aimed a laser beam at aircraft approaching or departing Honolulu.

"That is a relatively large number of incidents in a short period of time," Ian Gregor, FAA spokesperson, said. "It's not unheard of for people to shine lasers up at planes on the islands. But typically, we don't see three of them in seven days."

He says two of the laser incidents happened over East Oahu and the third was on the West side.

"The FAA is very concerned about these irresponsible acts because even a small laser pointer can temporarily impair a pilot's vision," Gregor said. "And that could be very serious if it occurs when the pilot is in the very critical landing or taking off phase of flight."

The FAA calls it a growing problem. In 2005, there were about 290 reports of lasers being shined at aircraft across the US. In 2006, the number soared to about 400. It climbed to about 420 in the first nine-and-a-half months of 2007.

"The FAA does encourage pilots to report these incidents to air traffic controllers, and once controllers get a report of a laser event, they call local police immediately," Gregor said.

A person caught aiming a laser at a plane may not get off so lightly.

"Particularly egregious cases can also be prosecuted by federal authorities for interfering with a flight crew," Gregor said. "So the penalties can be very stiff."

The FAA says two of the incidents involved Aloha Airlines. The third involved Alpine Air.