Monday, April 15

Laser strikes on aircraft rose during COVID

  • Flight crews reported more cases of ground-based lasers hitting aircraft last year than at any time since records started in 2010.
  • A police officer whose helicopter was struck compared the experience to “a flash of a camera if you were in a pitch black car at night.”
  • FDA regulations prohibit companies from marketing high-powered lasers as “laser pointers,” but they’re widely sold that way online.

Ground-based lasers have struck aircraft in the United States and its territories more than 74,000 times since 2010, and the risky phenomenon is on the rise, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the Federal Aviation Administration data reported by flight crews.

Small laser pointers used for business presentations, entertaining pets or pointing out stars might be the most familiar type for ordinary people. But affordable higher-powered laser pointers are also widely available online. Aiming either kind at an airplane is dangerous, experts say, and it’s a federal crime.

The annual number of laser incidents hit more than 9,700 last year, a 42% jump from 2020 and the highest level since FAA officials began keeping data more than a decade ago. Reports through September this year already have beaten the count from the same time a year before.

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