A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
Laser/aircraft incident statistics
U.S. - Domestic incidents
- Source: The U.S. Federal Aviation Association compiles pilot-reported laser incidents into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The information below comes from these spreadsheets.
During 2017, pilots reported 6,753 laser illumination incidents to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. This compares with 7,442 reports in 2016, and 7,703 reports in 2015. This is a 9% drop compared with 2016, and a 12% drop compared with 2015.During 2017, pilots reported an average of 18.5 laser illumination incidents each night to FAA. Here is the same data as above, plotted to show the annual average number of illuminations per day:Keep in mind that the pilot reporting rate is unknown, and may vary over time. For example, as of 2017 there have been anecdotal reports that some pilots have stopped reporting every laser incident they encounter, and are now filing only after more serious or worrisome incidents. This would show up as a decline in recent years of reported incidents, even if the number of actual incidents was constant or increasing.
UPDATES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR: For the most recent data, see the Home page, under "Recent laser pointer news". One of the gray buttons should be about the most recent FAA incident report numbers. (This data may not appear until the first quarter or two of a year.)
CUMULATIVE DATA: Below is the annual and cumulative number of laser illuminations reported to FAA since 2004 when reporting was made mandatory. To get the cumulative data, each year's annual total is added to all of the previous years' annual totals.
LASER COLORS: Most of the 2017 illuminations involved green lasers. The proportions are about the same as in 2016, with a slight rise in blue lasers (3.7% in 2017 compared with 2.9% in 2016) and a drop in “unknown” (0.7% in 2017 compared with 2.0% in 2016).There were about 33 reports where the laser was known or suspected to come from “Christmas” or “holiday” lights. This represents 0.5% of all 2017 laser reports. Despite the proliferation of holiday laser lights, the proportion of “red and green” laser sightings was the same in 2017 as in 2016: 0.6%.
MONTHLY INCIDENTS: The bars in the chart below show the number of laser illuminations each month from 2007, through the first half of 2018. (Monthly data not available for 2004-2006.) The blue line shows the total for each year.DAILY INCIDENTS: The chart below shows the number of laser illuminations for every single day from 2007 through 2017. The light blue line shows each day’s illumination reports. This number can vary widely from one day to the next. The dark blue line is a 60-day moving average; this helps smooth out the data in order to show longer-term trends. Click on the chart to see a larger version.
VARIATION THROUGHOUT EACH YEAR: Here is day-by-day data, except that each year is superimposed in a different color. This makes it easier to see how laser illuminations vary throughout each year. (Note that January is not shown because the data is a 30-day moving average, so the plotting starts with Jan. 31. Also note that because of the 30-day averaging, the maximum number of laser illuminations in a day appears to be about 36, when as shown by the chart above, the maximum number on any one day was 65.)
Yet another way to look at trends within a year is to view the cumulative number of laser illuminations. Each year starts with 0 illuminations, then rises to the yearly maximum on Dec. 31. For example, you can see that in 2017 and 2016, there were more incidents early in the year and fewer later in the year, compared with 2015. In all years except 2015, the lasing rate was relatively steady — the number of incidents is more-or-less continuously rising throughout a year.
U.S. - Eye effects and injuries
- Source: The U.S. Federal Aviation Association compiles pilot-reported laser incidents into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The information below comes from versions of these spreadsheets with additional columns that include details about the eye effect or injury.
In some FAA laser illumination incident reports, there were two or more eye effects or injuries reported. This is why, for example, in 2017 there were 24 incidents with actual eye effects or injuries (top table), and yet the total number of eye effects or injuries reported was 31 (bottom table).
See also information from an Australian study showing that out of 1,316 laser illuminations from 2010-2014, 15 or 0.8% resulted in flight crew incapacitation. This is similar to the FAA 5-year total above of 0.6% of incidents with one or more eye effects.
For the 198 FAA-reported incidents, there were 225 different reported injuries or effects, since some persons reported multiple effects. For 20% of the 198 incidents, a crew member sought or considered seeking medical attention.
U.S. - Arrests and convictions
- According to Ars Technica writer Cyrus Farivar, in the U.S. from 2005 to 2013 there were 134 arrests for aiming lasers at aircraft, out of 17,725 FAA-reported laser illumination incidents. He wrote “That means that even amongst reported incidents, there’s only a 0.75 percent chance of getting caught. Adding countless unreported incidents would only make that minuscule percentage go down further.”
Farivar noted that there were 80 convictions among the 134 arrests. One reason for the conviction rate of 60%: some who were arrested were minors who were never formally charged.
A selected list of persons convicted for laser pointer-related crimes, in the U.S. and worldwide, is here.
U.S. - Overseas military incidents
- MIDDLE EAST: According to U.S. officials in August 2018, these are the approximate numbers of U.S. military pilots that have been illuminated by laser light in the Middle East: 700 in 2015, 600 in 2016, 400 in 2017, and 350 in the first seven months of 2018. (If 2018 continues at the same pace, there will be about 600 laser illuminations in all 12 months of 2018.)
A U.S. Central Command spokesman noted that “[i]t is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint the origin of a short laser engagement.” He then claimed without further evidence that many of the illuminations “likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations.”
However, the chart below shows that the lasing rate of aircraft in the U.S. is very roughly 10 times that of the lasing rate of U.S. military aircraft in the Middle East — and it is likely that most U.S. domestic illumination incidents do NOT come from insurgents or terrorist organizations. Story here.
EAST CHINA SEA: U.S. officials said that from September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen U.S. military aircraft had been illuminated by “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers, from ships and shore locations around the East China Sea. Story here.
DJIBOUTI: In a May 3 2018 press conference, a Pentagon spokesperson said that China has aimed lasers at American aircraft at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti between two and 10 times. They did not say over what time period this happened. Story here.
- In 2017, UK airports reported 989 laser illuminations to the Civil Aviation Authority. This is a 21% decrease from the 1,258 illuminations in 2016. In addition, there were also 243 laser illuminations overseas (non-U.K.) in 2017. This is an 11% decrease from the 274 overseas illuminations in 2016.Below are the 989 laser illuminations in 2017, broken down by closest airport. (This does not mean that all incidents involved aircraft flying into or out of the airport. Many illuminations occur to police and rescue helicopters which may be in the city center or otherwise far from an airport. In the chart below, these are mapped to the closest airport.)
- 55% of pilots experienced a laser illumination, September 2015 to September 2016, according to BALPA. Story here; number also mentioned here by CAA.
- A story on laser illuminations of police aircraft in 2015; one helicopter in South Yorkshire has been hit nearly 100 times.
- According to the Daily Mail, “Between 2009 and June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.” For comparison, there were about 21,400 incidents in the US during that time period. Story here.
- In 2014 and 2015 there were 118 incidents where lasers were aimed at the drivers of trains. Story here.
- From a 2017 open consultation document published by the U.K. government: “Records from British Transport Police show that between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2016, a total of 466 laser incidents [targeting trains] were recorded. This equates to approximately 85 incidents per year. We believe these incidents are under-reported since these offences are not currently recordable as a crime.” This statistic is also mentioned on page 2 of this House of Lords Library Briefing.
- There have been a total of 578 laser illumination incidents on British railways from 2011 to late 2017, according to British Transport Police. Story here.
- Source: The 2008-2011 incident numbers below are from a February 2016 analysis by the Ottawa Citizen of Transport Canada’s CADORS database. The 2012-2017 incident numbers for the entire country, and for each province/territory, are from Transport Canada information provided to LaserPointerSafety.com in February 2018.In February 2018, Transport Canada provided to LaserPointerSafety.com a breakdown by province/territory of laser illumination incidents, from 2012-2017:
For the second chart, province-by-province data was not provided for 2008-2011. These years have been left blank so this chart can be directly compared with the first chart above. The following were not included in the bars due to low numbers of incidents during the 2012-2017 period: Nunavit (4), Prince Edward Island (3), Yukon (2) and Northwest Territories (0). The red line (TOTAL) does include all provinces and territories.According to Transport Canada, in 2015 there were 590 reported laser illumination incidents. This is an increase over 502 incidents reported in 2014. Story here.
A February 2016 story in the Ottawa Citizen says in 2015 there were well over 663 incidents. The reason for the discrepancy with the Transport Canada figure of 590 is not known. Story here with more charts.
- In 2016 and 2017, there were 544 and 541 laser illumination incidents, respectively. This is an 8% increase from the 502 laser illumination incidents in Australia in 2015. 2015 story here with more charts.Note that in mid-2008, Australian states enacted severe restrictions on laser power, and on laser possession. Despite these stringent laws, the rate of laser illuminations continued to climb for four more years, and remains higher than when the ban went into effect.
From 2010 through 2014, there were 113 flight crew incapacitations in Australia — an average of about 23 per year. Most were caused by gastrointestinal illness, but the second leading cause of pilot incapacitations was laser strikes. Of the 113 incapacitations, 15 (13.3%) were due to laser strikes, according to a 2016 study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
- Approximately 169 laser illumination incidents in 2017, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. 152 incidents in 2016, 104 incidents in 2015. Story here.
- 116 incidents in 2013, and an estimated 104 incidents in 2014. New legislation took effect March 1 2014 to restrict the importation and sales of lasers over 1 milliwatt. Story here and earlier story here.
- "During 2007, the CAA received 20 reports of aircraft being targeted by laser beams. One of these occurrences was in Sydney, 15 in the Wellington area, one near Auckland, and three in the vicinity of provincial airports. All were green beams and were probably from hand-held laser pointers….". From an article in the January/February 2008 Vector magazine, reprinted here.
Five countries' laser rates compared …… and did restrictions in Australia and New Zealand help?
- Here is a direct comparison of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand laser illumination incident numbers for the years 2007-2017. (U.K. data is not available for 2007 and 2008; Canada data is not available for 2007; New Zealand data is not available for 2008-2012, a single dot shows NZ for 2007.)The chart above does not take into account the fact that the U.S. has roughly 5 times the population of the U.K., 9 times the population of Canada, 14 times the population of Australia and 70 times the population of New Zealand.
In contrast, the chart below shows the laser illumination incident rates adjusted on a per capita basis. This is done by multiplying each country's data as if it has the same population as the U.S.:RESTRICTIONS DID NOT HELP IN AUSTRALIA: In mid-2008, Australian states enacted severe restrictions on laser power, and on laser possession. Pointers and handheld lasers over 1 milliwatt were essentially banned. Despite this ban, Australian laser illuminations increased (purple line). As of 2015-2017, Australia's per capita lasing rate has been roughly equal to the United States' per capita lasing rate (blue line).
RESTRICTIONS DID NOT HELP IN NEW ZEALAND: On March 1 2014, New Zealand banned the importation and sale of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt. Despite this ban, New Zealand laser illuminations increased (burgundy line) and as of 2017, are far higher on a per capita basis than any other country.
- An April 2013 investigation by the Scottish Express found 338 laser illumination incidents in Scotland from January 1 2011 through February 13 2013. Only 12, or 3.5 percent, had been solved. Story here.
- In a story about a May 14 2012 laser incident, the Scotsman reported that there were 107 laser illumination incidents involving aircraft in Glasgow during 2011, up from five incidents during 2008. Story here.
- There were 113 laser illuminations of aircraft reported in Germany during the first half of 2018, compared with 129 reports in the first half of 2017, according to Deutsche Flugsicherung, the German air traffic control company. This is a decrease of 12.4%. This country-wide decrease is despite a doubling of incidents at Frankfurt International Airport. In the first half of 2018 there were 22 laser illuminations at Frankfurt versus only 11 during the same period in 2017. Story here.
In Germany during 2012, there were 261 incidents reported of lasers being aimed at aircraft. Twenty-seven of these were in the Berlin area. Story here.
- 20 reports of laser illuminations of aircraft in the 47 days between January 1 and February 16 2016. Story here.
- There have been 170 laser incidents in South Africa to date [Jan 1 - Aug 1 2012] in 2012, according to the director of the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). That is roughly on pace for 290 incidents for the entire year, which represents a 66% increase over the 175 incidents in 2011. Story here.
- There have been 181 laser/aircraft incidents recorded in South Africa, from January 1 2010 to February 29 2012, according to the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS). Story here.