NEWS: STATISTICS, LAWS AND ALL OTHER LASER POINTER NEWS
This webpage has a chronological list of general laser pointer news. There are separate pages for specific aviation-related incidents and non-aviation-related incidents. In addition, the What’s new at the website page lists major changes, updates, and additions to LaserPointerSafety.com.
We sometimes add older news items; since the list is chronological, items new to this page won’t always appear at the top. You may want to scroll down to see if there are new items since the last time you visited.
Negroni began the segment by noting that laser incidents are “truly a menace and it’s not to be taken lightly.” She said offenders “don’t watch the news, they don’t read the paper” and thus “they need to be reached out on their level. And that level is like a Facebook level or a Twitter level, where people are actually going to learn.”
She concluded that “it’s just time for the establishment to get on board, before something really terrible happens.”
Negroni has written aviation articles for publications such as the New York Times and Smithsonian Air & Space, is an on-air expert for ABC, CNN and NBC, and has a book on mysterious aviation accidents coming out in 2016. She previously wrote an article for RGN critical of FAA laser publicity efforts entitled “No let-up in laser attacks on airplanes” published December 13 2013, and a blogpost on the same topic on August 28 2014.
From the Runway Girl Network podcast episode 27, “Crash Investigations and Laser Incriminations”, uploaded August 29 2015. A transcript of the laser-relevant parts of the podcast is below; click the “Read More…” link.
According to the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, “The lasers are similar to common laser pointers and use a narrowly focused green beam of light. Because the beams are parallel to the ground and because the installation is not in designated air space, the lasers do not pose a hazard to aircraft or passersby.”
Lasers create a “light fence” to illuminate transmission poles and power lines in ‘Ele‘ele, Kaua‘i in August 2014. Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative is again experimenting with lasers and other devices to reduce collisions between endangered seabirds and utility equipment during the season when the seabird colonies are most active. Photo credit: Shelley Paik, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative
From a press release by the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (reprinted below).
DICKERSON: So, the final question, Sully, I want to ask you about these reports about near misses from drones and commercial airlines. How dangerous is that?
SULLENBERGER: Well, because they are easy to get and they're relatively inexpensive, these devices are becoming ubiquitous. And that is true not just of drones, but of laser pointer attacks. And so it allows people to do stupid, reckless, dangerous things with abandon. I am heartened that the aviation and the legal authorities have raised the penalties for doing these things. Unfortunately, the essential element that is still missing is the certainty of prosecution, because it has been difficult to catch them in the act. This must stop.
DICKERSON: Very quickly, though, what could possibly happen, though, with one of these drones? I mean, how bad could it get?
SULLENBERGER: Well, we have seen what a six-pound or an eight-pound bird can do to bring down an airplane. Imagine what a device containing hard parts like batteries and motors can do that might weigh 25 or possibly up to 55 pounds to bring down an airplane -- it is not a matter of if it will happen. It is a matter of when it will happen.
Sullenberger successfully ditched U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River in January 2009, after multiple bird strikes caused both engines to fail just after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. Since 2011 he has been a CBS news aviation and safety expert commentator.
From the Face the Nation transcript and the Wikipedia page for Sullenberger
The glasses block three laser wavelengths, in the red, green and blue regions. According to Dr. Perricone, “The real challenge was how do you block out red, blue, and green without changing the color discrimination. It’s critical a pilot sees color. He has to look at his instruments, he has to look at runway lights and a lot of other signals.”
A July 30 2015 news story said the glasses “have been manufactured and are ready for purchase, costing $400 a pair.”
Dr. Perricone was quoted as saying that if pilots are required to wear glasses like these, “then this problem will go away. No one is going to throw rocks at a window that won’t break.”
One pilot said that lasers have been pointed at him “at least 10 times in the past 3 years.”
A CJME news story notes that “pointing a laser at planes could land those responsible in hot water under the Canadian Aviation Regulation Act. Potential penalties range from fines of $3,000 to multi-year probation sentences and incarceration. Charges could also include mischief, assault with a weapon and assault of a police officer.”
From CJME.com and 620CKRM.com
Delaware Online reported from the event that “[l]asers have been a point of contention in Ocean City [MD] for years, with the council deciding to ban the sale of them last summer, and make it illegal to possess a laser pointer in public. Similar laws have gone into effect in New Jersey, but the Coast Guard hasn’t seen a decrease in laser strikes, [Lt. Shawn] Glavan said.”
According to The Dispatch, “Coast Guard Station Atlantic City, where [Glavan’s] MH-65 Dolphin [helicopter] is based, handles around two or three incidents a week involving individuals shining lasers on the aircraft. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City’s response area covers a large swath of the mid-Atlantic including Ocean City and as far south as Chincoteague.”
From DelawareOnline, CBS Baltimore and The Dispatch
The study, reported in the July 2015 American Journal of Ophthalmology, looked at 17 eyes of 17 patients at two institutions, between January 2012 and May 2014. Most were youths (mean patient age 18 years; range: 11 to 30 years old). The eyes were exposed to blue laser light for less than one second, at a mean distance estimated to be about 1 meter from the laser. The time from exposure to the patient visiting the hospital for treatment ranged from two days, to almost 500 days.
Patients were given a full ophthalmic examination, including fundus photography, macular spectral-domain optical coherence tomography, and fundus fluorescein angiography.
The macular holes ranged from 0.17 millimeters to 0.62 mm, with a mean diameter of 0.35 mm.
In 14 of the eyes, surgeons went deep into the eye and removed vitreous gel (a pars plana vitrectomy); this removes clouded gel that may contain blood from the injury. At the same time surgeons also did a procedure called “internal limiting membrane peeling,” which uses an instrument to make a break in the membrane which is then peeled away with forceps.
In 11 of the 14 eyes, the operation completely closed the macular hole. Of the other three unoperated eyes, the eye with the smallest macular hole spontaneously closed.
Before the operation, the mean Snellen best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was 20/210, or about 1/10th the normal visual acuity; the range was from 20/30 to 2/200. After the operations, the mean BCVA was 20/62 (range: 20/20 to 4/200). These statistics included all eyes (the 14 operated eyes and the three unoperated ones).
The authors concluded “Full-thickness MH can result from momentary exposure to high-power handheld laser devices. While spontaneous closure may occur in rare cases, most cases require early surgical intervention. Vitrectomy may be successful in closing the macular hole with visual acuity improvement in most of the cases.”
From the abstract of the study by Alsulaiman SM, et al., “Full-Thickness Macular Hole Secondary to High-Power Handheld Blue Laser: Natural History and Management Outcomes” in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, July 2015 Vol. 160, Issue 1, Pages 107-113.e1.
Note: Other studies have been published based on this data, an August 2013 LaserPointerSafety.com story about the first study is here.
Based on past years’ trends, this means that at the end of 2015, there could be between about 5,600 and 7,400 incidents. (The range is because in some years, the second half of the year had 2.04 to 2.71 times the number of incidents in the first half.) We estimate 2015 is most likely to have about 6,300 incidents. This would be a 62% increase over the 2014 total of 3,894 incidents.
Stated on a daily basis, the number of incidents is expected to rise from 10.7 per day in 2014 to somewhere between about 15 and 20 incidents per day in 2015:
2015 information provided by FAA on July 10 2015. Statistical analysis done by LaserPointerSafety.com based on prior year FAA records.
The hobbyist, with the username “styropyro,” wrote on YouTube: “Just finished building my 40W(!!!) laser shotgun!!! The output of this laser is complete insanity, and is made up of 8 parallel 5W laser beams totaling to 40W. The parallel beams are manipulated with lenses, sort of like how a choke modifies the spread of a shotgun blast. The massive diode array is powered by a huge lithium polymer battery pack (capable up dumping 250A) and the laser array is regulated by a whopping 24 LM317 drivers. This is definitely the craziest thing I have ever built, but I hope to beat this invention with something even crazier before too long.”
In the video narration, he said “I just built something so crazy that I’m almost afraid to use it” and “There is no, no good reason for anybody to own something this powerful. But because it wasn’t illegal for me to build, I decided to build it anyway.” The video then goes on to show the beam popping balloons, and burning paper, a ping-pong ball, and other materials.
Styropyro had previously posted other videos with titles such as “Homemade Lightsaber!?! MASSIVE 3W Handheld Laser Torching Stuff!!”, “My Homemade 6W Laser Sword!!!” and “Homemade Death Ray Laser DRONE BOT!!! Remote Controlled!!!”
From Gizmodo. Thanks to Patrick Daniel Murphy for bringing this to our attention via Reddit.
The laser is full color (red, green and blue combined) and is said to be harmless. The system was developed primarily as a vision aid for persons with visual defects. According to the news story, the image does not require focusing and is projected through the eye’s lens directly onto the retina.
The story notes that “the basic idea of projecting imagery onto a retina via laser has been around for decades, but miniaturizing the optics to realize a wearable form factor had been difficult until recently.”
A Fujitsu spinoff called QD Laser helped develop the glasses. They expect to begin selling them in March 2016 in Japan, Europe and the U.S. for about USD $2,000.
From PC World
More information at the LaserPointerSafety.com page on the 2015 Nanocomposite coating study
80% of the cases involved aircraft on approach, 15% involved aircraft taking off, and 5% happened during cruise.
The commander of the border police said he has never been able to identify the laser perpetrators. The fact that incidents occur in the dark, “coupled with the fact that a laser pointer can be easily hidden, makes it impossible to identify those responsible, unlike those who throw stones from the flyover. We think they are guys who do not realize the severity of what they do."
From Corriere Della Sera. Thanks to Alberto Kellner Ongaro for bringing this to our attention.
It was unclear from news reports whether the warning was sent directly to students at school, or if the warning came only as part of a May 4 2015 news story on the website Health24.com. A May 11 search of the Gauteng Department of Education website did not show any announcements, notices, documents, or other information warning about laser pointer hazards.
The spokesperson said that at least two children had permanent eye damage from lasers. One case cited was a South African 11-year-old boy who looked into the laser light after one of his classmates was playing with it. His mother said “He now has a blind spot right in front of him, but still see the sides of the eye [sic].” This case was reported in April 2015. The other South African case involved a child who aimed a laser’s light into his eye and had permanent damage.
Gautang is the most populous province in South Africa. It contains the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Midrand and Vanderbijlpark.
From Health24.com: Story about the warning to learners, and story about the 11-year-old boy being injured.
It began by noting that in 89 of the 93 reported arrests last year for laser strikes against aircraft, the offender was male. The article quoted a New York laser safety officer, John Zelenka, as saying he has never seen a female playing with lasers.
A developmental psychologist was quoted as saying that lasers appeal to a masculine perspective. Patrick Murphy (editor of LaserPointerSafety.com) told the Journal “For a lot of guys it’s like, ‘The bigger the laser, the more visible, the more of a man I am.’”
Author Sophia Hollander then noted that the prices of a 20 mW laser dropped from $239 in 2004 to $8 in 2015.
She examined the similarity of “Star Wars” lightsabers and lasers, quoting experts on the appeal to males of a weapon that can “throw your influence.”
The online article was illustrated with photos from a lightsaber combat class held by the group New York Jedi. Actual lasers were not used in the class due to the potential hazards.
From the Wall Street Journal (article is behind a paywall)
In addition, volunteer Kelli Halston Hoversten suffered two permanent eye injuries during the climactic “Man Burn” in 2014. Her left eye was permanently blinded by a handheld laser, and her right eye was partially blinded by a vehicle-mounted laser. (The injuries significantly affected her. Hoversten “lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now” and she no longer rock climbs or ice climbs recreationally due to the loss of depth perception. She is allowed to drive but “just barely” since her central vision is blocked.)
According to an article about the policy change in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Hoversten will attend the 2015 Burning Man event, in part because of the new laser policy.
The Burning Man ban on handheld lasers applies even to low-powered laser pointers less than 5 mW in power. In a separate blog post comment, Burning Man press official Will Chase wrote: “Because of the difficulty in discerning the difference between dangerous and non-dangerous handheld lasers — and because you don’t want to be wrong — it’s been decided to prohibit all handheld lasers.”
The new webpage with the laser policy also noted that the restriction on handheld lasers “is in line with nearly all major festivals and events in the United States and Europe.”
Non-handheld lasers are still allowed at Burning Man if they are on art installations, “DMV Mutant Vehicles,” or are in theme camps. Such lasers must be disclosed on the art, vehicle or camp application. An Event Safety Officer will review the applications; only safe uses will be allowed.
The first version being sold on Kickstarter contains two Class 2 (<1 milliwatt) 635 nanometer red laser modules. The module on the left (in the photo above) is suspended inside the TV-remote sized SteadyLaser. It provides the stabilized beam. The other laser is non-stabilized, like a standard laser pointer. In the final Kickstarter version, the user can choose either either the stabilized beam or the normal beam, but — for safety reasons — not both at once.
This is a 2-second exposure, from a Kickstarter video, showing both beams being emitted simultaneously in order to demonstrate the stabilization’s effect. The line traced by the stabilized laser is up and to the right of the non-stabilized laser’s line.
Pricing for the initial run of 1000 SteadyLasers is approximately $150 each. It is promoted on Kickstarter solely for presentations in professional locations such as businesses, schools and courts. The primary benefits are claimed to be minimizing distraction, and reducing the appearance of nervousness when using a laser pointer in presentations.
The Kickstarter page first went up approximately April 10 2015. As of April 13 there were 6 backers pledging $960. The goal is to get $150,000 in backing by June 9 2015; otherwise the laser will not become a product — or at least, not through Kickstarter.
Regardless of the Kickstarter outcome, the inventors want to license their patents to current laser pointer manufacturersd.
From SteadyLaser.com, the SteadyLaser Kickstarter page, and Sys-Con Media via PRNewswire
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com
There could be concern over a handheld laser that can remain steady on a target. If aimed at an aircraft’s cockpit, the beam would be able to stay in a pilot’s vision longer than a standard, non-stabilized laser pointer.
Because of this potential hazard, LaserPointerSafety.com contacted co-inventor Jeff Wilson, who kindly agreed to add an aviation safety warning to the SteadyLaser’s labeling, with text such as “Do not aim at vehicles or aircraft. This is hazardous and illegal.”
The first-generation SteadyLaser has low power (1 mW) and low apparent brightness (635 nm red, which appears only 25% as bright to the human eye as the common 532 nm green laser). Assuming a 1 milliradian divergence, the SteadyLaser is an eye hazard to 23 feet, can cause flashblindness up to 55 feet from the laser, can cause glare up to 245 feet, and would be a distraction to pilots (brighter than other city and airport lights) up to a half mile from the laser.
However, if future versions had more power — up to the U.S. FDA’s limit of 5 mW for laser pointers — and used a 532 nm green laser, then the hazard distances would increase as follows: eye hazard to 52 feet, flashblindness to 245 feet, glare hazard to 1,097 feet, and distraction hazard to 2.2 miles.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: There have been many pilot claims of eye injuries caused by laser pointers aimed at their aircraft. FAA has investigated some of the most serious claims. In 2011, a person knowledgeable about these studies told LaserPointerSafety (on background): “I haven't seen anything that convinces me that any of the FAA incidents are true injury. I haven't seen any convincing evidence of delayed laser lesion effects. I do know that headaches and eye pain and photophobia and light sensitivity have been reported and associated with laser illumination. I have seen nothing convincing me that there is real cellular, tissue injury.”
There have been a few cases (<10?) of temporary eye injury, where the eye healed. This is similar to how skin can heal after a sunburn. In all of these cases, the pilots returned to flying.
There have also been cases of reported laser injury to the cornea. This is the transparent surface of the eye. Visible laser light passes right through and is not absorbed. The cause of these reported “laser” injuries is the pilot rubbing his or her eyes too vigorously, causing painful scratches in the sensitive cornea. Any damage from a visible laser beam would be on the light-absorbing retina.
Note that FAA limited its statement to commercial pilots. There may be military pilots in conflict zones who have been injured by laser weapons. If so, this information would be classified. Due to the seeming lack of urgency with FAA and U.S. military, any such injuries would not seem to be a threat to commercial pilots in the U.S.
Here are lists of all LaserPointerSafety.com news items tagged with the keyword “eye effect or injury”: aviation injury incidents, non-aviation injury incidents, other eye injury stories.
LaserPointerSafety welcomes any documented cases of pilot eye injuries. Contact us with the links etc., and also contact FAA so they can be aware of the cases.
Schumer made the announcement at a Sunday press conference in his Manhattan office, along with four commercial airline pilots who had been illuminated by laser light. One pilot, Gabe Rubin, said he knew of a pilot who “suffered severe eye damage from a green laser pointer [and] will never fly again.”
Schumer said “Green lasers are the weapons of choice being used for evil purposes. We know terrorists are always looking for areas of weak points.”
He is focused on green pointers because they are apparently preferred by pranksters because the green light travels farther, and “because the light spectrum of green is more easily absorbed by the retina and then causes more damage”, according to the senator.
In 2012, Schumer wrote a letter to the U.S. FDA saying that laser pointers’ power should be less than the current 5 mW limit, that FDA should restrict more powerful Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (500+ mW) lasers, and that FDA should require warning labels about aiming at aircraft.
From Newsday and CBS New York. The text of Sen. Schumer’s press release is below (click the “Read more…” link).
Additionally, there were 312 laser incidents that occurred outside the U.K. to U.K. operators.
In 2014, the top four most frequent incident locations were London/Heathrow (168), Manchester International (107), Birmingham (92), and Leeds Bradford (81). London/Gatwick and Glasgow were tied for fifth place, each with 64 reported incidents.
CAA published a PDF report with more detailed figures, including a monthly breakdown of the most frequent laser incident locations in 2014, and monthly & yearly totals for 2009 through 2014, and overseas (non-U.K.) incidents occurring to U.K. operators.
From the CAA PDF report dated February 2 2015. Note: There is a discrepancy where one table lists a total of 1,440 incidents in 2014 while another lists a total of 1,442. We have used the larger figure in this story.
Additional charts are on the page listing 2014 incident statistics, and the page with 2004-2014 historical data.
This information was previously restricted and hard-to-obtain by the general public. The 3.6 MB Excel-format spreadsheet lists the date, time, aircraft ID, aircraft type, altitude, nearest major city, beam color, and whether an injury was reported.
The image below shows four days worth of data, January 1 through 4, 2014. Each row is one laser/aircraft incident.
The spreadsheet, “Reported Laser Incidents for 2010-2014”, can be downloaded from FAA’s webpage Laser News, Laws, & Civil Penalties.
The chart below shows the number of incidents each day (light blue line) and a 30-day moving average (dark blue) to smooth out the data. In the first half of the year (Jan 1 - Jun 30) there were 9.4 incidents per day, but these rose in the second half to 11.9 incidents per day, making the 2014 final average of 10.7 incidents per day.
It is unclear why 2014 saw roughly level incident rates up to about June but then a steady increase over the next 5 months. One significant 2014 event was the February push by the FBI to publicize and prosecute laser pointer incidents, including offering a $10,000 reward. This was followed by another FBI push in June — after which rates started to rise.
The chart below shows 2014 in context with the past seven years. While the incident rates have leveled off to about 10-11 per day since 2011, all the publicity and prosecutions over the past few years have not brought the rate downward.
Finally, this chart superimposes each year’s laser illumination incidents, from 2009 through 2014. This gives an idea of the “shape” of each year. The heavy black line is 2014 data.
From public FAA Excel spreadsheet “Reported Laser Incidents for 2010-2014” at this page. For 2013 and previous years’ data, see the page FAA laser/aircraft incidents: 2004-2013 historical data.
The three groups are launching a campaign to inform the public of the dangers of aiming lasers at aircraft. A Trafi spokesperson says one person was caught misusing a laser against an aircraft, but was not convicted since the court could not establish intent.
In addition to toys with visible beams that are dimmer than laser pointers, the other type of children’s Class 1 laser products are those that have internal, inaccessible lasers. For example, the laser inside a CD or DVD player device is often Class 3B — well above 5 mW. But because the beam cannot be accessed under normal conditions, the entire device is Class 1.
What laser toy products are included
FDA’s guidance is for “children’s toy laser products”, defined by the agency as “a product primarily used as a toy that is manufactured, designed, intended or promoted for novelty or visual entertainment use by children under 14 years of age.” It does not include “laser products that are used in professional or academic settings that may be used by children (for example, laser printers, CD players, educational and science kits).”
To determine if a laser product is a toy, FDA takes into account factors such as the promotion and product graphics (for example, if children are shown playing with the product), the location of sales such as toy stores or websites, and whether features or the nature of the product may indicate it is intended for children.
The agency gives examples of children’s toy laser products:
- Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”
- Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin
- Hand-held lasers used during play as “light sabers”
- Dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column with bright colors or pictures on the box that might appeal to children
- Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room with bright colors or pictures on the box that might appeal to children.
Eibhlin McLoone, a consultant ophthalmologist with the Belfast HSC Trust, has treated several of the children and said the devices "are not toys".
"Sadly, I have seen children who have eye damage because they have played with a laser pointer and unfortunately once the eye has been damaged by a laser pen the damage is irreversible," she said.
"Due to the risk of permanent visual impairment, it is vital that the public is aware of the risks associated with laser pointers and that these devices are never viewed as toys."
Ms McLoone added: "Unfortunately, once the laser burn has happened there is no treatment available to reverse it."
From the Belfast Telegraph
The sales restriction does not seem to be the result of any particular regulatory actions or other outside forces; instead it appears to be a decision by the “new ownership and management” that was also announced at the same time.
Wicked currently sells handheld lasers up to 2000 milliwatts (2 watts). In the U.S., lasers sold as “pointers” or for pointing purposes must be below 5 milliwatts output power; handheld battery-powered lasers over that power may still be sold legally if they are not “pointers” and if they meet FDA safety requirements for their laser class. All Wicked Lasers sold in 2015 will thus be within the U.S. “pointer” range of power.
The announcement came with a 40% off sale, so the company will still be shipping high-powered lasers through December 31 2014.
From the email announcement Wicked Lasers sent to customers on Nov. 19 2014 (shown above).
The October 7 2014 story was a follow-up to an incident at an NFL football game on October 5, when Buffalo Bills players complained of lasers being aimed at them during a game with the Detroit Lions. The NFL and police were said to be investigating.
USA Today’s Martin Rogers wrote that Dr. Robert Josephberg “has lobbied members of Congress for more than a year to discuss criminalizing intentionally dangerous use of laser pointers, to no avail. Josephberg told the newspaper that intentional shining of a laser at someone should be a felony: “There has been a significant increase in medical journals of reports of blindness caused by the lasers. The use seems to be increasing – and so does the power and availability of the pointers. Congress needs to take note.”
In a February 28 2011 story in the New York Times, Josephberg recounted how he saw a high-school student who had a blind spot from a 50 milliwatt green laser pointer. At first he did not believe that lasers were available that could cause such an injury. But he bought a 100 milliwatt laser for $28 online; Times writer Christine Negroni said “he could hardly believe how easy it was.”
A June 2011 article in the magazine of Westchester (NY) Medical Center, where Josephberg works, quoted the doctor as saying “I contacted new Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth of the 19th Congressional District, who is an ophthalmologist herself. We are working with her, trying to write a bill that addresses this problem.”
From USA Today, the New York Times and ”Health & Life” magazine from Westchester Medical Center
This information comes from a 2014 “Visual/Mechanical Inspection” guide provided by Apple to authorized repair centers. An image from the document was provided by a worker to Consumer Reports’ Consumerist blog. In the upper right is the laser damage information:
This item is relatively new. Laser damage is not mentioned in the 2012 version of the iPhone Visual/Mechanical Inspection Guide.
From the Consumerist. For more on laser damage to consumer cameras and camcorders, see our Lasers and camera damage page.
On July 24 2014, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to David Fleenor of Epic FX, Inc. of Phoenix, Arizona. It stated that videos posted on the epicfx.com website “documents audience scanning with Class IIIb and/or Class IV lasers. Although much of the audience scanning was done with fanned beams, your projector is not designed nor reported for safe audience scanning. Your variance prohibits audience scanning. Any laser beams projected into the audience directly or indirectly is considered audience scanning. This is in violation of Condition 5 of your variance.” [The page has since been removed, and returns a 404 error.]
In the ten weeks prior to September 26 2014, there were seven incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft; five of these led to arrests.
News reports did not directly link the misuse to the man arrested with the 107 laser pens. It also is not known if the investigation that led to the seizure was started in response to the aircraft incidents, or was separately initiated. All flights landed safely.
One of the seized pens was said to be 650 times more powerful than normal. Given that U.K. regulations prohibit laser pointers above 1 mW, the pen was likely 650 milliwatts. This is Class 4, the most hazardous laser classification, as the beam can cause eye and even skin burns.
From the Daily Echo
Wicked is a major internet advertiser and a heavy user of AdWords. By doing this, the company puts the information in front of a large audience of persons whose browsing history indicates they are interested in lasers.
The Wicked Lasers AdWords ad, with the safety phrase highlighted to show its location. (The highlighting does not appear in the actual ad.)
The company’s intent is to help reduce the number of incidents of persons aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also one of the few companies to include a “don’t aim at aircraft” warning on their lasers’ labels, and in the user manual.
Brought to our attention by Steve Liu, CEO of Wicked Lasers
The first draft of the April 2014 law called for a Class Five felony to “knowingly or intentionally” aim a laser towards an aircraft. But there was concern among legislators that juveniles could end up with a felony record. The bill passed once the penalty was reduced to a Class One misdemeanor.
In a September 22 2014 story, reporter Emilie Eaton recounted Arizona’s experience. FAA-reported incidents in the state rose from 138 in 2010, to 202 in 2013. One police pilot interviewed said that he had been hit by lasers over 100 times, during a 22 year career. The pilot, Chris Potter, said he had permanent damage from a laser strike: “It literally felt like I got punched in my eye and there was a piece of debris, like a piece of glass in my eye.”
Another pilot quoted, Pima County Sheriff’s Department deputy Chris Janes, said he has has between 12 and 24 laser strikes from 2007 to 2014: “I have not received any eye damage. But I’ve had headaches afterward. I’ve had eye discomfort for several days afterward.”
From Cronkite News, via the Tucson Sentinel
The Aerolaser is made by the Delft, Netherlands company “Bird Control Group”. The handheld device uses a green laser with a range over 2500 meters (1.6 miles). The company claims that birds do not grow used to the laser, and it is safe for the animals. According to an article at the website IHS Airport360, “As a safety feature, the laser is disabled above a certain height - this prevents the beam from being shone directly at aircraft or controllers in the tower.” In addition, the operator can look through a scope so he or she knows where the beam will be directed.
Conceptual diagram of using a handheld laser around airports, from Aerolaser.com
A frame from an Aerolaser video describing use at the Southampton airport.
A frame from another Aerolaser video showing laser light scattering birds.
The company also makes an automatic, autonomous system called Aerolaser Groundflex, pictured below from the company’s website:
According to Wikipedia, “bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety” since 35% of strikes result in damage to the aircraft, costing $400 million per year in the U.S. and up to $1.2 billion per year worldwide.
Bird Control Group also makes the Agrilaser Lite (range of 1000 meters) and the Agrilaser Handheld (range over 2000 meters), intended to keep birds away from fields and crops.
This is the first time that Wicked, or any consumer laser manufacturer, has used the proposed “Laser Safety Facts” labeling system which aims to give the general public detailed and easily accessible safety data. A key part of this proposal is that the information is not controlled by Wicked or any laser manufacturer; instead it comes from an independent source.
He pointed to Pablo Picasso, who in 1949 collaborated with Life Magazine photographer Cjon Mili to create light drawings:
From a series of photos created by Picasso for Life Magazine in 1949
Di Cecco said that using laser pointers was a challenge: “When you open the shutter for 20 seconds, you have to go really fast with the light – it’s like dancing. And sometimes the model moves, and you have to try and try with the same model for the perfect picture.”
From the Phnom Penh Post. Additional photos of Di Cecco’s work can be seen at the link.
She disagrees with the U.S. government’s primary focus being a “blame and shame” campaign that tries to capture laser perpetrators using helicopters, then prosecutes them and publicizes the resulting multi-year sentences. Negroni calls this a “high-tech, heavy-metal, dollar-intensive approach to the problem … [that] has gone terribly wrong…”
Her contention is that persons who aim at aircraft “don’t watch television news, read the daily newspaper or log on to the FAA laser education website before heading out into the night with their nifty green or blue laser pointers.”
She ends her blog post by calling for creativity to try to market this message to its target audience of teens and young men, using a more sophisticated publicity or social media effort.
In the past few years Negroni has written about what she calls “this disaster in the making” for the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. Late in 2013, she wrote a more detailed article for the blog Runway Girl Network, exploring the problem — and suggested solutions — in more depth.
From Flying Lessons. Background information disclosure: LaserPointerSafety.com provided some information to Negroni which was used in her articles.
UPDATED September 8 2014 - Negroni’s blog post was reprinted by the Huffington Post.
In the video, various animated characters are shown lasing planes and going to jail, hurting themselves by misusing powerful lasers, aiming at police and getting shot, and otherwise having an ironic, unfortunate outcome.
”Dumb Ways to Blind” is modeled after “Dumb Ways to Die”, a November 2012 YouTube hit originally done for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Victoria. The Australian campaign “generated at least $50 million worth of global media value in addition to more than 700 media stories,” according to ad industry magazine The Age. It was viewed on YouTube over 84 million times as of July 2014.
The laser version is one of dozens of parodies and spin-offs. Unlike many of these which are done only for humor, “Dumb Ways to Blind” appears to have an educational goal similar to the original “Dumb Ways to Die”.
The article begins by saying that “People keep aiming powerful laser pointers at aircraft ... despite jail sentences for offenders and rewards for people who turn them in.”
It quotes unnamed law enforcement experts and prosecutors as saying that most strikes are “not done out of maliciousness, but irresponsibility.” The FAA told the WSJ author that no accidents or aborted takeoffs or landings have been attributed to laser incidents.
Jones notes that the FBI’s recent publicity and prosecution campaign “appear[s] to have led to some success, with the number of laser strikes in recent months dropping to about nine a day from about 11 in 2013, according to an FBI spokeswoman. She said this crime was the first for which the FBI has offered a reward that didn’t involve a fugitive or missing person.”
The article describes a few cases, then in the penultimate paragraph, states “Still, thousands of laser strikes, particularly involving commercial planes, go unpunished. Since 2005, only 162 people have been arrested for strikes, and 86 convicted, according to the FBI.”
From the Wall Street Journal. The article may be behind a paywall, requiring a subscription to access the full text. Aviation reporter Christine Negroni was moved by the WSJ article to respond a day later with a blog post entitled “Aviation’s Effort Combating Laser Attacks Hashtag #Ineffective #Insane”.”
The reviewer, Bill Kuch, says the green-only version contains a Class IIIa laser that uses diffractive holographic optics to create the beams. According to the instruction pamphlet, “Each individual laser beam is less than 5 mW, which is about the same as an average laser pointer.”
He then talks about testing the unit indoors and outdoors. Kuch said that after aiming at the tree canopy around his cabin in the woods, his neighbors came out, commented positively, and asked where they could purchase one.
In the final paragraph, he says when he pointed the projector up into the trees, “that begs the question: could it interfere with aircraft flying overhead?”
Review of the Viatek Night Stars Landscape Lighting from the Gadgeteer.
The newspaper also reported that in the 12 months between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 31 reports of aircraft being illuminated as they approached Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London.
Laser strikes have also increased on rescue helicopters flying out of Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, a few miles north of Gatwick. A tactical flight officer was quoted as saying “I've had to break away from a task because of being lasered and it's not because we're trying to catch a bad guy, it's because we're trying to find people potentially in danger.... There are certain elements of society that might be trying to harm us or put us off being in a certain location.”
Police inspector Mark Callaghan told the Mirror that there have been a number of jail terms for perpetrators, but that "Hand-held lasers are easily obtained over the internet or from market stalls and street vendors abroad. The warning labels on these are misleading and they are more powerful than advertised."
From the Surrey Mirror
In addition, if the laser pointing results in serious bodily harm to a human being (defined as “an injury that requires hospitalization, long-term treatment, or causes permanent or mutilating injuries”), the violation becomes a felony.
As of August 14 2014, it is not known if the act has been signed by the Governor, and thus whether it has become an official law. [Usually, such laws are signed by the executive. However, in October 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a law, passed by the legislature, that would have banned the sale of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt.]
From a PDF of S.B. 799. The text of the law is here. Thanks to George Johnson for bringing this to our attention.
During the 219 days from January 1 to August 7, 2014, there were 2,085 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the FBI data. This is a 12.8% reduction compared with 2,390 incidents during the same 219-day period in 2013, and is an 8% increase compared with 1,925 incidents Jan. 1- Aug. 7, 2012.
One reason for the decline may be the FBI’s campaign to prosecute offenders, and to inform the public via press releases and public service announcements that it is illegal to aim a laser at aircraft.
Based on the Jan-Aug 2014 data, the number of illuminations in 2014 is expected to fall below 3,500.
From information provided to LaserPointerSafety.com, and analysis of FAA data for previous years. For 2013 and past years’ data, see the page FAA laser/aircraft incidents: 2004-2013 historical data
The ministry received 18 official comments by the August 8 submission deadline. According to Dagens Medisin, “none of the answers are critical [of] mitigation in the use of laser pointers.”
The ban was supported by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), the Police Directorate and the Customs and Excise department.
The CAA said that there were around 100 incidents each year where lasers were pointed at aircraft in Norway.
If the measure is enacted, it will take effect beginning in 2015.
From Dagens Medisin, in the original Norwegian and in English (Google machine translation). The proposal and links to comments, can be found here in Norwegian, and here in English.
The July 27 2014 opinion piece, titled “Public safety versus profit?”, begins with the May 19 2014 emergency legislation passed by Ocean City.
The article notes that the May ban was resisted by merchants who would lose revenue, and by those “unhappy because of the perceived curtailment of personal freedom.” But this is outweighed, in the paper’s opinion, by the risk to eyes: “There are recorded instances of police, random passers-by and municipal employees in Ocean City suffering injury as a result of someone pointing a laser at them.” In addition, the story says, pilots are at risk from the bright light.
The opinion piece then notes that in the two months since the ban, “resort police went from taking 1,000 calls in a three-year period complaining about laser pointer abuse to no incidents this year. This is despite the fact that laser pointers are easily obtained elsewhere, suggesting that without the temptation to make an impulse purchase on the Boardwalk, people will find other ways to amuse themselves.”
The editorial suggests that merchants may be “legally or ethically culpable” for injuries or aircraft crashes caused by lasers that they sold: “Is our economy so focused on profits, we’ve lost track of taking the common welfare into consideration when conducting business?”
The paper’s conclusion is that “ given the persistent and long-term problems caused by laser pointers in Ocean City and elsewhere, particularly other beach resort areas, banning the sale of the devices on the Boardwalk and regulating how they are used — for the purpose of curtailing abuse — seems a reasonable approach.”
From an editorial available online at DelmarvaNow.com
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.
The State Airports (Shannon Group) Bill includes the aiming prohibition; violation can lead to jail time or a fine of up to €50,000 (USD $66,800).
The action comes after 158 laser illuminations of aircraft in 2013, according to the Irish Aviation Authority. Forty-nine of the 2013 incidents involved Air Corps aircraft. From January to mid-July 2014, there were 11 Air Corps-related incidents.
A Fianna Fáil transport spokesperson said the legislation was helpful, but more should be done. He advocated targeting the sale and supply of lasers.
From the Irish Times and RTÉ News
After 975 incidents of misuse reported to police over three years, there were no incidents or arrests during the May 19 to July 13 period. The ban was put into effect both because of increasing harassment of persons in the beach town, and because of concerns over pilot safety when the bright beam was directed towards aircraft. Harassment incidents noted in the article included times when tram operators and city bus drivers were targeted.
Ocean City’s attorney noted that “We didn’t want to ban their legitimate use,” saying that laser pointers used in presentation are legal.
In 2010, Ocean City police estimated that 23 retailers had sold more than 30,000 laser pointers at $30-$50. A laser pointer wholesaler said in May that the ban “would hurt the merchants... Say a merchant sells 1,500 in a season, that’s $30,000. That’s a lot of cash to them.”
The news story discussed an injury to 33-year-old Rich Drake in the summer of 2009, who supported the ban. A red beam went into his eye. “Afterward, he noticed his vision took on a pinkish tone, and altered the colors he was seeing. The effects lasted more than a year. Drake already wears glasses and has a condition that makes his eyes extra-sensitive to light. The experience left him shaken.”
From DelmarvaNow.com. The story includes quotes from LaserPointerSafety.com editor Patrick Murphy.
Note that other U.S. beach towns have enacted bans or restrictions on laser pointers, including Ocean City NJ in 2011, Virginia Beach and towns in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. Past LaserPointerSafety.com news stories can be found with the tags Ocean City, Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach. Text of the 2014 Ocean City MD ordinance is here.
According to the agency’s information, published July 5 2014, FDA requires that manufacturers of handheld, battery-powered lasers limit the power of the laser light to five milliwatts or less. The label must state the power and the hazard class.
The guidance tells the reader not to purchase handheld, battery-powered lasers above 5 milliwatts “unless the manufacturer has an approval from FDA (called a ‘variance’) to allow the purchase.” Otherwise, the sale is illegal, according to the agency.
They also warn against aiming lasers at eyes, at reflective surfaces into eyes, or at the operator of aircraft, watercraft, or vehicles.
From the FAA Basics webpage entitled “Does FDA regulate these new powerful laser ‘pointers’ and are they hazardous?”
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected Michael Smith's defense that he didn't believe the laser would reach the airliner, saying federal law doesn't require prosecutors to show he intended to hit the aircraft.
Below is more information, including a summary of the court’s decision and a link to the full decision. Read More...
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said “Early data seems to show that the number of laser strikes on aircraft have plateaued at the same level as last year.” From Jan. 1 to mid-May 2014, there have been 37 laser incidents. This compares with 116 recorded incidents in all of 2013.
The legislation, which took effect March 1 2014, did not make possession of lasers over 1 milliwatt illegal, but it did restrict importation and sales.
Goodhew said over 80 retailers had been visited to remove any over-powered lasers from shelves and to remind sellers of the new restrictions. Tests showed that of 22 lasers suspected of being over 1 milliwatt, 17 were in fact over the limit. Online auction sites have been monitored. Import officials seized 10 lasers as well.
Nine applications have been submitted seeking government approval to import, supply or acquire a laser pointer over 1 mW. Five have been approved and one is being considered. (Presumably the other three were rejected.)
From Voxy.co.nz. Other LaserPointerSafety.com coverage of New Zealand statistics and laws is here.
UPDATED June 26 2014: LaserPointerSafety has received some clarifications from Jo Goodhew’s office:
1) The 37 laser strikes were from January 1 2014 to mid-May 2014.
2) A March 5 2014 article in the New Zealand Herald, which stated there were 119 recorded incidents in all of 2013, is incorrect. The correct number is 116 as stated in the main article above.
3) The statistical analysis of the “plateauing” laser incidents in 2014 was done as follows: The 37 strikes from Jan to mid-May 2014 were extrapolated to give an estimated 104 strikes for 2014. This was then compared with the 116 incidents in 2013. Although this indicates that 2014 might be a decrease compared to 2013, “at this stage we are being cautious and describing it as a ‘plateauing’.” [Note: This statistical analysis would be correct if the rate of lasing is approximately equal throughout all months of the year. However, LaserPointerSafety.com has found that the rate varies with seasons; in the U.S. incidents tend to go up during the Northern Hemisphere summer. If New Zealand’s rate also varies significantly with seasons, then the statistical analysis is flawed. It would be better to compare Jan to mid-May 2013 directly with Jan to mid-May 2014.]
Toyota has filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seeking to allow the advanced headlights.
A story in Ars Technica goes into more detail about how the laser headlights work, and how companies are advocating for “sensible policy solutions where the tech and car worlds intersect.”
From a June 5 2014 Ars Technica article by Jonathan M. Gitlin
Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: Although automobile headlights are not laser pointers, they do use diodes similar or identical to those in high-powered blue lasers such as the multi-watt Wicked Lasers S3 Arctic handheld. In headlights, laser diodes are used to energize a phosphor coating so that incoherent bright white light is emitted. The small diodes allow the headlight assembly to be lower-profile, giving more flexibility in body design and aerodynamics. They also allow beam shaping to avoiding dazzling other drivers, and aiming the beam in the direction of travel while turning. Our coverage of laser headlights (other stories) can be found here.
Lamda Guard’s “metaAir” film uses metamaterials, also called nano-composites, to reflect one or more laser colors without interfering with normal visibility. According to the company, the film can protect from beam angles up to +/- 50 degrees away from head-on. This has benefits when protecting cockpits against laser strikes, which can come from any angle.
It can be adhesively applied to glass or clear plastic; applications include eyewear, protective goggles and windscreens. Lamda Guard says that the Airbus tests on windscreens will mark the first time an optical metamaterial nano-composite has been applied on a large-scale surface.
The metaAir film can be engineered either to absorb or reflect the desired wavelength(s). For aircraft application, the reflection approach is being used in order to block undesired light wavelengths from entering the cockpit. The reflection bandwidth is currently in the 15-20 nanometer range.
For the most common type of green laser pointer -- responsible for 93% of FAA reported incidents in 2013 -- with a wavelength of 532 nm, the film would block light from about 522 to 542 nm. Additional wavelength blocking can be added as well, such as the 445 nm blue used in powerful handheld lasers such as the Wicked Lasers S3 Arctic that has up to 2 watts (2000 milliwatts) output.
Two key advantages of blocking laser light at the windscreen are that pilots do not have to carry or use laser protective eyewear, and there is absolutely no interference with the visibility of aircraft instruments. In preliminary tests, the anti-laser film had a narrow enough bandwidth that it did not interfere with airport lights seen outside a cockpit.
Because of ultraviolet degradation to the adhesive layer that adheres the optical metamaterial to the windscreen, the film would need to be replaced after about 5,000 flight hours. This translates into overnight replacement roughly once every three years. The optical metamaterial itself would not have a flight hour restriction.
In addition to piloted commercial aircraft windscreens, Airbus will also be investigating related applications such as piloted military windscreens, UAV camera protection, and sensor protection for satellites and airborne platforms.
The original FBI education and reward program ran from February 11 to April 11 2014 in 12 U.S. cities that had high rates of laser/aircraft incidents. The FBI said the program led to a 19 percent decrease in lasing reports.
The new, nationwide program was announced June 3 2014. The $10,000 reward offer is scheduled to last for 90 days; until September 1.
The FBI said they are working on the educational campaign with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Line Pilots Association, International, and state, local and international law enforcement. They are outreaching to schools, teaching teens to not aim at aircraft.
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.
The extensively researched 4,200-word article, dated May 21 2014, was based around the 14-year sentence handed down in March 2014 to Sergio Rodriguez, for his August 2012 aiming of a laser at two helicopters, one medical and one police. Farivar used the case to illustrate many laser/aviation issues, especially about how prosecution is being used to try to educate and deter future incidents.
Farivar interviewed Karen Escobar, who has brought more cases against laser perpetrators than any other federal prosecutor. Her territory includes Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield.
In the article, Escobar was quoted as saying “At sentencing, [Rodriguez] did not accept responsibility for his actions; he blamed his 2- and 3- year-old children. I believe the evidence showed the laser was a dangerous weapon, and there was intention, supporting a guideline sentence of 168 months. I would not call it harsh. I would say it is a penalty that fits the crime, but I believe that it will have a deterrent effect, and I hope it will.”
Farivar noted that, “While 14 years might sound incredibly excessive for an incident that caused no serious or lasting physical injury, much less death, this is the emerging reality for attorneys prosecuting laser strikes. The Rodriguez sentence now serves as an example of what can happen to defendants who don't take plea deals. (The plea deals typically end up being around two years.)”
From Ars Technica
The action comes after a number of previous measures had failed to stop misuse of lasers.
The NBC Miami “Team 6 Investigators” did a report on laser incidents, how pilots are endangered, and the enforcement effort to find perpetrators. The report aired May 16 2014.
HB1029 was introduced March 12 2014 by Representative Terry Landry, a Democrat from New Iberia. The House passed it by a vote of 97-0 on April 14, and it was sent to the Senate. As of May 13 2014, it had passed the Committee on Judiciary C and was being sent to the Senate floor for a vote. If it passes, as expected, it will be sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal for his signature.
The bill “provides penalties of imprisonment with or without hard labor for not less than one nor more than five years, and a fine of $2,000. For second or subsequent offenses, the offender shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not less than two years nor more than ten years and shall be fined $4,000.”
A police officer who testified before the Judiciary C Committee told of an incident where a suspect was tracked down but officers “couldn’t charge him with anything.” The FBI -- who could bring charges -- was given the information but after two months, nothing was done.
A police helicopter pilot was asked why people aim lasers at aircraft. He said “We don’t know their intentions,” and speculated that they could be “just fooling around” or trying to interfere with police work.
From the Times-Picayune and the Louisiana State Legislature website
A YouTube video shows infrared and visible footage of the test.
The 10-kilowatt High Energy Laser (HEL) system previously demonstrated an ability to track, target and destroy rockets traveling at high speed.
From Gizmag and Engadget
TASC is working on countermeasures such as laser eye protection and the development of procedures for injury assessment. The work is being performed under the Optical Radiation Bioeffects and Safety contract with the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing’s Optical Radiation Bioeffects Branch at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
From the San Antonio Business Journal
The SKY Technologies Blue Handheld includes a keyswitch, 3-5 second emission delay, remote interlock, and a shutter to cut off the beam, as required by FDA regulations enforced by the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). Under current (May 2014) law, the laser appears to be legal for sale and use in the U.S., assuming the manufacturer also submitted a proper Laser Product Report and has filled all other FDA/CDRH import and paperwork obligations.*
Although the agency did not give a reason, such bans have been imposed in other countries in response to climbing numbers of laser illuminations of aircraft as well as reports of eye injuries caused by higher-powered consumer lasers.
The proposal would not make it illegal to own or responsibly use portable, battery-powered lasers of 5 mW or more. However, manufacturers could not make or sell these into general commerce in the U.S.
The agency will accept comments for 90 days (until August 2 2014) on the new proposal. FDA will then review the comments. Based on whether it believes any objections or suggestions are valid, the agency could put the guidance into effect (thus imposing their new interpretation), could submit a revised proposal, or could withdraw its proposal.
What lasers are covered by the proposed 5 mW limit?
FDA does not have direct authority over battery powered portable lasers. For example, the words “pointer” and “handheld” laser do not appear in U.S. laser regulations 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11.
Therefore, to regulate these lasers, the May 5 draft proposes an extension of the FDA’s existing authority to regulate surveying, leveling and alignment (“SLA”) lasers. In the May 5 proposal, FDA asserts that the existing definition of SLA lasers also can applied to lasers with the following design characteristics:
- Compact size (i.e. small, lightweight)
- Battery power
- Ergonomic design to permit hand-held use
- An aperture in the laser product's protective housing to transmit laser emission into open space
- Portability to permit use in open spaces or in unrestricted environments
- Features that utilize the laser’s straight line emission for surveying, leveling, or alignment
According to the FDA, these types of lasers would be affected by the new 5 mW limit:
- Laser pointers
- Tools incorporating laser guides
- Gun sights
- Target designators
- Night vision illuminators
- Visual disruptors
What lasers are NOT covered by the proposed 5 mW limit?
The FDA's proposed 5 mW limit would NOT apply to lasers with the following design characteristics:
- Predictable, stable power input and output
- High quality power supply and/or power conditioning components
- Adjustability of power and wavelength
- Design that facilitates remote actuation
- Hard wire connection to power mains
From the FDA’s Surveying, Leveling, or Alignment Laser Products - Draft Guidance for Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff webpage, published online May 2 2014. This webpage includes the procedure for submitting comments to FDA.The FDA’s PDF version of the draft guidance document is here.
Editorial comment from LaserPointerSafety.com: We have previously published our opinion disagreeing with the FDA’s interpretation of “SLA” lasers. The existing regulations are clear on what constitutes “surveying, leveling or alignment” (SLA) lasers. While we understand the FDA’s intent, in our view, they are going about it the wrong way. They are essentially “making it up” by adding characteristics (size, battery power) which are in no way derived from the clear, existing definition of SLA lasers. As support of this position, we have not found any surveying, leveling or alignment lasers which look the same as the majority of laser pointers and handhelds. This topic is discussed in much greater detail on our page describing FDA authority over laser pointers and handheld lasers.
In addition, if the pilot is unable to safely operate the aircraft, or if anyone onboard has a serious physical injury, the act becomes an assault. Apparently, under Arizona law, an “assault” would add to the seriousness of a Class 1 misdemeanor (possibly increasing the jail term and/or fine), but would not put it into another category such as a felony. (For more details, see this discussion and this page.)
House Bill 2164 was introduced January 13 2014. It amended existing Arizona statute Section 12-1213, which prohibited aiming a laser pointer at a peace officer. HB 2164 added a prohibition on aiming at an occupied aircraft.
The technique is to look in the desired direction with the red aiming beams on, then to switch on the blue beams while looking at the desired target. The glasses have a lens that attenuates blue laser light, so that the user is protected in case of any reflected blue beams.
The two blue beams emitted from Priebe’s glasses, each roughly 1 watt, can burn cloth and pop balloons.
His inspiration: Cyclops’s 2-gigawatt “optic blast,” which is red in the Marvel comic books.
An online YouTube video shows Priebe’s laser glasses in action:
Due to the inherent danger of head-worn lasers, Priebe is not making additional glasses and he is not offering plans for others to build their own.
Priebe has previously built custom laser gadgets such as a replica of Iron Man’s palm-mounted repulsor ray projector, a laser “Gatling gun” with six rotating 1.4 watt blue beams, and a laser gun that emits a non-visible 1 megawatt pulse.
From Gizmodo. Original video posted by AnselmoFanZero.
(For reference, the full title of the 5 Feb 2014 document is 2014/59/EU: Commission Decision of 5 February 2014 on the safety requirements to be met by European standards for consumer laser products pursuant to Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on general product safety Text with EEA relevance. The document is online here.)
Timeframe and who is affected
The EU decision does not appear to directly affect laser product sales or access at this time (early 2014). Instead, it applies to European safety standards "pursuant to Directive 2001/95/EC”, the General Product Safety Directive. These standards would need to be updated to conform with the 5 Feb 2014 EC decision. The expected time is about 24 months.
A member of the IEC Technical Committee 76, the group which sets laser equipment safety standards, told LaserPointerSafety.com that "the standardization organizations are about to be requested to produce a new standard or amend an existing one, implementing/specifying such new requirements. The deadline for an amended or new standard seems to be within 24 months…. For now, it seems that the General Product Safety Directive, the Low Voltage Directive, and the Radio & Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive are the targeted ones.”
Once one or more standards are updated to meet the requirements of the 5 Feb 2014 EU decision, the new requirements would then be legally enforceable in the European Union.
On March 1 2014, new legislation took effect which severely restricts access to lasers over 1 milliwatts only to those with a legitimate use, such as astronomers.
A Jetstar spokesman said they regarded the pointing of lasers at aircraft as highly irresponsible and welcomed the new legislation.
Air New Zealand spokeswoman Brigitte Ransom said the new regulations were a positive step in mitigating the risks.
From the New Zealand Herald and the Manawatu Standard
The C-MUSIC system mounted on a Boeing 737-800
The system was developed after a 2002 incident in Kenya where terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter plane carrying more than 250 passengers; the missiles missed their target. C-MUSIC will be added to all El Al aircraft. In addition, the developer Elbit Systems has contracts with other countries besides Israel.
From Wired via Ubergizmo
Canada: After 461 lasings in 2013, pilots want stricter penalties plus government controls on lasers
In addition, Capt. Craig Blandford said “We’d (also) like to see a control put on them, some kinds of permits or access to these things that’s somehow controlled. I’m not sure to go so far as to say we want them on a prohibited weapons list, but that’s one of the things that we’re pursuing in order to get stricter on control.”
In 2013, there were 461 laser/aircraft incidents reported to Transport Canada, as compared with 357 in 2012. As of February 12, there have been 44 incidents in Canada during 2014.
From the Ottawa Citizen. The story includes additional details on Canada statistics and the pilots’ proposals.
Other news based on the statistics:
- In 2013, there were no incidents documented by FAA as causing eye injuries. Although there were incidents with eye effects such as temporary flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache, no incidents were serious enough to be tabulated as “eye injuries” by the agency. The FAA did say that in 2013, there were 35 incidents where pilots who were lased sought medical attention.
- The closer an aircraft is to the ground, the greater the likelihood of reporting a laser incident. There is a strong peak in the number of incidents at 1000-3000 feet above ground level.
- The color green was reportedly seen in the vast majority (92.8%) of incidents. Blue was a distant second with 2.4% of incidents.
- For states, California had the most incidents (734), followed by Texas (416) and Florida (326).
- For cities and regions, LaserPointerSafety has determined the Los Angeles area, including Van Nuys and Burbank, leads the nation with 147 incidents. Portland Oregon is second with 137 and Houston is third with 124. (Note that LaserPointerSafety.com tabulates regions slightly differently than the FAA or FBI, so these federal agencies may have slightly different numbers or rankings.)
- FAA tabulates each incident according to the closest airport. For 2013, Portland (Oregon) International led this category with 133 incidents. Phoenix Sky Harbor International was second with 111, and Marin International in San Juan, Puerto Rico was third with 107. This does not necessarily mean that incidents occurred at or near these airports -- just that these were the closest airports to the reported incident.
Full details are on the 2013 laser/aircraft incidents page.
This comes as part of a publicity campaign by the FBI to inform the public and especially teenagers about the dangers of lasing aircraft. The agency said teens are the primary age group responsible for laser/aircraft illuminations.
[Note: There appear to be no official records of perpetrators’ ages. However, here are lists of incidents recorded in LaserPointerSafety.com news items, based on the age of the perpetrator: 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69. Counting the stories in each group may give a rough indication of the age distribution of laser perpetrators.]
The two-month campaign will focus on 12 cities with large number of incidents. FBI field offices participating in the regional reward program are Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Juan, and the Washington Field Office.
During the campaign, the FBI and the Air Line Pilots Association International will work with Clear Channel Outdoor to hang billboards and issue public service announcements in these cities, warning people that a laser prank can lead to prison.
Avicii answered “I just bought a really awesome laser pointer. It's two watts, so it's five hundred times stronger than those regular green laser pointers. If you were standing on top of the Empire State Building with it, you could see all the way to Philadelphia. It's dangerous. You can't really play with it. You need to use goggles or you could go blind. But I saw some YouTube videos where it set stuff on fire, and I was like yes. It cost $1,500. That's not too bad for such an amazing invention.”
From Rolling Stone
After tests in mid-2013, the Basil Justice and Security Department purchased 1,000 pairs of laser protective eyewear, at 200 Swiss Francs each (USD $224).
All Basel police officers and rescue emergency vehicles are equipped with the glasses, as of December 2013. Other Swiss cantons are in the testing phase.
The Basel anti-laser glasses are demonstrated in this frame from a SRF video.
From a December 16 2013 report by Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, (original German text and Google-translated into English). Thanks to Basel officer Ruedi Maier for bringing this to our attention. For additional news items from Switzerland, including the 2011 purchase of laser protective eyewear for air rescue helicopter pilots, click here.
A video showing the “AirTerminators Super Combat Helicopters” in January 2014 at the London Toy Fair shows an operator getting a brief laser hit just below his eye. The laser is said to be Class 1; if so, such a brief exposure would not be considered harmful according to safety guidelines.
However, it is not recommended for children to play with lasers. Further, it is unknown if the laser remains operational even if the helicopter is stationary or is handheld instead of free flying.
The helicopter is in the middle top of the photo. A red line can be seen just under the operator’s eye. This is the path of the laser from an opposing helicopter as it went across his face during the video frame. This can be seen at 34 seconds into a YouTube video of the demonstration.
Hawks were originally used to scare pigeons away from the modern building, opened in 2004. When these proved unsuccessful, contractors turned to the laser pens. They are primarily used at dawn and dusk to disturb and disperse roosting pigeons.
A spokesperson for the Pigeon Control Advisory Service said “Laser pens can be lethal and blind animals and birds. They are definitely not something we would ever recommend.” PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also said the animals eyes could be damaged and that other humane, non-harmful methods should be used.
From the Edinburgh News, Jan. 23 2014. Thanks to Paul Bluesky for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATED Jan. 27 2014: The contractors said they must abandon the “no kill” policy in order to further reduce the pigeon population on the Scottish Parliament building. A Parliament spokesperson said there had been no change of policy. From the Edinburgh News
Douglas Brandt said that pointers should be labeled as Class 2 [less than 1 milliwatt] or Class 3R [less than 5 mW]. He stated that Class 3B and 4 lasers had the potential to damage the eye and were required to be registered with the State of Illinois.
He urged students to not direct a laser pointer at a person’s eye, and not to use Class 3B or 4 lasers, or unlabeled lasers.
Brandt is the laser safety officer at the university, which has about 11,600 students.
From the Daily Eastern News
The effort began when NIST physicist and laser safety officer Joshua Hadler worked with the U.S. Attorney’s office on a 2013 case in Fresno, California. Hadler already had devised a relatively simple and inexpensive way to accurately measure laser pointer powers. (His widely-reported study showed that a majority of pointers exceeded the U.S. limit of 5 milliwatts.)
But power is only one factor of the potential laser hazard. The beam spread, or divergence is another key factor. This is because a wide, high-divergence beam will have its energy spread out more, making it dimmer and less hazardous at a distance than an otherwise equivalent-power laser with a narrower, low-divergence beam.
To tackle this, Hadler used a pyroelectric laser camera to measure the laser’s divergence. From the power and divergence, and knowing the approximate distance to the aircraft from the Federal Aviation Administration incident reports, Hadler was able to calculate the irradiance, or laser power over a given area.
The information helped to get a conviction in the Fresno case. Hadler noted that in the past, “...the vast majority of prosecutions were failing, due in no small part to a basic lack of knowledge about the laser devices on the part of nearly everyone in the trial process, including lawyers, judges, and jury members. What they needed was to be able to acquire and present quantitative data about a device's power and its effects at a specified range that could be used in the judicial process."
Hadler will present a paper on February 21 2014 at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Seattle, Washington. The paper, “Output Characterization of Handheld Lasers Used in Criminal Aircraft Illumination,” will discuss the needed measurements and will present ideas for having these measurements be done outside of NIST, in law enforcement forensic labs.
Barry Jackson, an A380 pilot and former president of a pilot’s association, cautioned in early January 2014 that this can be “extremely dangerous” for aircraft that are landing.
UFO hunter Alan Ferguson agreed with Jackson’s characterization of the danger. Ferguson lives in Acacia Hills, about 35 miles from Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. His website, UFOterritory.com.au, contains videos and descriptions of sightings, including some videos of lasers being used to contact or power up UFOs.
Ferguson noted that he and his UFO-hunting associates are “very professional ... and can see the difference between a UFO and a plane ... Especially when they just appear and then move off then stop again, no planes do that.” He said persons who do aim at aircraft are “idiots” and should be prosecuted.
On January 4 2014, laser pointers were aimed at aircraft landing at Darwin International Airport. Ferguson said neither he nor visiting associates used lasers during that time.
Persons who shine a laser pointer at aircraft in the Northern Territory can be jailed for up to four years.
Two frames from a YouTube video shot January 4 2014 by Peter Maxwell Slattery, using a night vision monocular. The first frame shows Slattery aiming a laser at a dot moving steadily across the sky from right to left. The next frame is from a few seconds later and shows the “power up” effect. A YouTube search for “UFO laser pointer” brings up numerous videos with titles such as “UFO’s respond to laser pointers” and “UFO inspects my laser pointer”.
The four Mediterranean islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentara are popular tourist destinations and are the largest of the group. They are administered as a province of Spain.
The seizures began after authorities discovered laser pointers being sold that were unsafe and/or not labeled according to regulations. Also, pilots were reporting that lasers were being aimed to try to blind the aviators.
Officers from the Directorate General of Public Health and Consumption, the Customs and Border Patrol from the Guardia Civil, and La Palma Local Police inspected the origin and labeling of laser pointers being sold in stores.
Laser pointers are only allowed in toys if they are Class 1 (less than 1 milliwatt) and there is a sign warning parents.
Class 2 laser pointers, between 1 and 5 milliwatts, are for professional use only. Lasers above 5 mW are not allowed to be sold and their use is limited.
From the EuroWeeklyNews
Audi Sport Quattro concept car
BMW also has introduced laser headlights, on its electric supercar i8.
The headlights use laser diodes to energize a phosphor that creates white light. According to Audi, the beams have a range of 1640 feet, twice the distance of LED high beams.
Technically, the white-light beam would not have the same coherence as a laser, making it safer for human vision (at least, at normal driving distances -- any very bright light viewed up close could be an eye hazard). An Audi spokesperson said “Our main aim was to not dazzle any drivers, laser technology is much more accurate.”
Because the laser diodes are so tiny -- only a few micrometers in diameter -- the headlight assembly itself can be made smaller as well.
Closeup of the Audi laser headlights
The laser power appears to be about 10 watts, based on an Australian report that “the system is 10,000 times more powerful than a laser pointer”. Such pointers in Australia are limited to 1 milliwatt or 1/1000 watt. It is unclear if this refers to the total power of both headlights, or of a single headlight.
From Car and Driver, and News.com.au. MotorTrend has an excellent article from 2011 describing in detail how the BMW laser headlights work. It contains an account where journalists looked directly into the light without adverse effect.
The Tucson Police Department had about 50 lasing incidents in 2013; the perpetrator was caught in most of the cases. But there was little prosecution.
Orr says the bill is needed because “there’s really no punishment. The county prosecutor, because it's not at a felony status, doesn't go after them. And so literally, you get a ticket and nothing happens. But you're endangering lives."
Orr is working with Tucson police pilot Chris Potter, who says he has been hit by a laser pointer about 100 times in his career. Potter says a laser pointer permanently damaged his right eye around 2011.
According to News 4 Tucson, “the FBI will launch a public awareness campaign about the issue next month.” It was not clear if this was an Arizona-area initiative or nationwide.
From News 4 Tucson
UPDATED - February 4 2014: The Arizona House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of increasing the penalty for persons who point lasers at aircraft. HB 2164 would make it a Class 5 felony, with a presumptive sentence of 18 months in prison, to knowingly or intentionally point a laser at an occupied aircraft. And the penalty would go to 30 months if the act disables the pilot or causes serious physical injury to anyone on board. The legislator who introduced the bill, Ethan Orr, is considering reducing the penalty slightly, to a Class 6 felony, when it goes to the full House. Prosecutors could reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor when appropriate. Orr said this might be the case for youths so that a single mistake would not result in a felony record. From KWST.com. A related article at AZCentral.com includes comments from LaserPointerSafety.com’s Patrick Murphy on the issue.
UPDATE 2 - May 1 2014: The bill was eventually amended to make the act of aiming at an aircraft a Class 1 misdemeanor. The act became an assault if the pilot was unable to safely operate the aircraft or if anyone onboard suffered a serious physical injury. The amended version passed both legislative bodies and was sent to Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it on April 30 2014. From the Arizona State Legislature legislative history of HB2164.
UPDATE 3 - September 23 2014: The Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty to a felony. They hope to introduce a measure when the legislature re-convenes in January 2015.
The regulations were based in part on public submissions made in response to a November 2012 Ministry of Health proposal. Submissions were received from organisations including retailers, government agencies, non-government organisations, professional associations, importers, the aviation industry, members of the public and other organisations with an interest in high-power laser pointers. Their suggestions were compiled in a 20-page document which helped guide the new regulations.
"High-power laser pointers can cause eye injuries, even blindness, and skin burns. ACC accepts around 10 claims a year for these injuries," says Mrs Goodhew.
"They can also cause temporary flash blindness, which poses a serious risk if the person affected is a pilot or in charge of a vehicle or equipment. The Civil Aviation Authority reports around 100 laser strike incidents on planes each year.”
The new controls, under Health and Customs legislation, cover the import, supply and acquisition of high-power laser pointers. They do not currently restrict the possession of high-power laser pointers. A bill is before Parliament which, if passed, would make it illegal to be in a public place with a laser pointer without a reasonable excuse.”
"The new controls have been crafted to only target the high risk hand-held laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt,” Goodhew said. “The regulations are in line with Australia’s restrictions and recommendations by the World Health Organization.”
This compares with five laser incidents during 2012, and one during 2011.
The officials reminded the public that lasing an aircraft is illegal.
From CTV News and OHS Canada
“The purpose of this study was to investigate what dose of laser radiation, in terms of intensity and exposure time, may be associated with eye damages. The study has been limited to unwanted exposures of laser radiation from commercially available laser pointers. Of particular interest has been to search for data that clarify the dose-response relationships for functional disabilities that persist more than 6 months.”
“The study shows that long-term vision loss can occur as a result of involuntary exposure from commercially available (strong) laser pointers at close range. The injury may occur before a normal person is able to respond by closing the eyelid, although there are only a few cases reported. A minor such damage is transient within a few days. It is also likely that such a visible injury to the retina becomes functional, i.e. prevents reading skills. What dosage is required for the disability to become permanent is not clear in the literature. Also, the dynamics of evolvement and repair of tissue damages and disabilities are hardly described at all.”
Author: Stefan Löfgren, Jörgen Thaung and Cesar Lopes
Publisher: Strål Säkerhets Myndigheten (SSM - Swedish Radiation Safety Authority)
Publication date: 19 November 2013
No of pages: 50
Price per publication: 100 SEK (incl. VAT)
Download: 2013:30 Laser pointers and Eye injuries - An analysis of reported cases [1385 kb]
A summary by LaserPointerSafety.com of the study’s objectives, major findings, and conclusion is here.
The statement came as hundreds of Arizona law enforcement pilots attended a safety seminar in Tucson focusing on laser beam incidents. In 2012 in Tucson alone, the police department’s air unit had “close to 50 incidents”, according to Potter. As of November 2013, Phoenix was the top U.S. city for laser incidents.
From KVOA News
The operation was initiated in August 2013, after multiple incidents of lasers being aimed at aircraft around Portland International Airport. Four law enforcement aircraft were equipped with video surveillance cameras.
On August 10, five aircraft were targeted by a ground-based green laser. One was an Alaska Airlines flight; two were from the FBI and two were from the Portland Police Bureau. At the same time, a surveillance team was on the ground. Using information from the FBI/PBB aircraft sightings, the ground officers observed suspicious behavior from a male in the back yard of a duplex apartment. He was looking up at the sky. He removed something mounted from a stand or pole, and went inside. The laser strikes ceased afterwards.
Six days later, after reviewing the video, consulting Google Earth and Google Maps, and visiting the apartment complex, an FBI Special Agent determined that Apartment 35 -- the one previously surveilled -- was the most likely source of the laser. The apartment was occupied by 39-year-old Stephen Francis Bukucs.
Surveillance cameras were then secretly installed, watching Apartment 35. They could see in daylight, low light and nighttime (using infrared).
The 2013 figure of 3,188 laser/aircraft incidents is 16.7% higher than the same period in 2012. If incidents continue at the same pace, there will be 4,063 incidents in calendar year 2013.
Total Incidents, 2004 to DateThere have been approximately 16,936 laser/aircraft incidents reported to FAA, from January 1 2004 through October 17 2013.
For additional details on previous years, see the year-end statistics for 2012, 2011 and 2010.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com
This 16.7% increase represents a setback from the 2012 totals, which were 3% lower than in 2011. Having a rise in 2013 incidents seems to indicate that the publicity and prosecutions which form the majority of current U.S. anti-laser efforts are not having the desired effect.
There has been some speculation that the 2013 figures differ from 2012 in part because FAA may have updated its incident reporting procedures. While FAA is working to include military and overseas incidents, this has not yet been done. In this respect the 2013 figures are directly comparable to earlier years.
Another possible explanation is that pilots have become more aware of the issue and are thus more likely to report a laser sighting. However, pilot information has been widely available since 2008 and has increased as this became of more concern. By now, most pilots should be alerted to the issue and FAA’s reporting requirements. There has not been a major push during 2013 in this area, so increased pilot reporting is probably not a major factor in causing 2013 reports to increase over 2012.
In his veto message, Christie noted that the New Jersey bill would have gone “well beyond” the federal government’s 5 milliwatt limit for laser pointers. He said there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 and 5 mW in New Jersey. Christie indicated the bill was “arbitrary” and interfered with lawful commerce of pointers typically used in business presentations. (See full text below, after the “Read More…” link.)
The bill was first submitted in November 2010, in response to ongoing problems in Ocean City, N.J. and other beach resort towns where widespread laser pointer sales in boardwalk shops were leading to harassment incidents and aircraft illuminations. The bill, A3169/S418, passed the state Senate on August 19 2013 by a vote of 36-1. It had previously passed the General Assembly on June 24 2013 by a vote of 70-7, with one abstention.
These regulations, 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11, require laser product manufacturers only to self-certify to the Food and Drug Administration that their products meet safety standards. Once the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health reviews and acknowledges the certification, the laser product can be marketed in the United States.
UL is providing a third-party, independent check on the manufacturer’s claims. This can be provided to retailers such as Amazon.com which in August 2013 began requiring third-party verification of lasers sold on its website. UL can also assist with preparation of a manufacturer’s FDA report.
The company’s free “Evo” app is available on Apple iOS and Android app stores. A smartphone connects to the Evo laser either using a cable from the audio output jack, or wirelessly using an optional $40 Bluetooth module that attaches to the laser. Once connected, the app allows remote control of the laser’s output power, and of its flashing frequency. (Although anyone can download the app, the software does not appear to run unless connected to a Wicked E4 series laser such as the Evo.)
The software code is available as open source, so that hobbyists can create their own software to custom-control the Evo.
Sean Goebel, a graduate student in astrophysics, has produced a 3-minute time-lapse video showing observatories at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, shooting lasers into the night sky. By analyzing how the beam is distorted by the atmosphere, a telescope’s mirror can be counter-distorted in order to obtain sharper images for astronomers.
A still frame from the video. Two telescopes are simultaneously observing the same spot in the Milky Way, using lasers to help give a sharper image.
Goebel writes about the lasers:
“A typical laser pointer that you might use to point at stuff/exercise your cat is about 5 mW. That's five one-thousandths of a watt. Not a whole lot of power. And yet it's enough to blind airplane pilots. The lasers on the telescopes are in the range of 15-40 watts. The FAA calls a no-fly zone over the area when a laser is in use, and two people have to stand around outside in the freezing temperatures and watch for airplanes. Each of them has a kill switch to turn off the laser in case an airplane comes near.”
“Additionally, the telescope has to send its target list to Space Command ahead of time. Space Command then tells them not to use the laser at specific times, ostensibly to avoid blinding spy satellites. However, you could calculate the spy satellite orbits if you knew where they were at specific times, so Space Command also tells the telescope to not use the laser at random times when no satellites are overhead.”
To clarify, the FAA does not have a no-fly zone, but instead issues a “Notice to Airmen” or NOTAM about the laser operations. It is not illegal to fly over the area. Fortunately, at Mauna Kea’s location and altitude only a couple of flights per month fly at night within the laser-affected airspace over the mountain. At one telescope, planes get close enough to the beam to cause a shutoff once every year or twin.
Automated aircraft-detection systems are slowly being tested and phased in, since the cost of having humans watch the skies all night at Mauna Kea’s altitude (13,700 feet) is about $600,000 per year.
The video, “Mauna Kea Heavens”, can be seen at Sean Goebel’s website, which also has more information about adaptive optics lasers and how the video was made. Additional information on aircraft frequency and spotting techniques is courtesy Paul Stomski of the Keck Observatory. A story about Keck’s aircraft protection system appears online in Ascend magazine.
The Association says the lasers are too easily available, and that although it is illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft, the punishments have been too lenient: “Slaps on wrists and £150 fines are not enough.”
According to a September 29 2013 article in the Sunday Express, there were 1,570 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2012, and 1,911 in 2011. The most prominent airports cited were Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the East Midlands, Bristol, Heathrow and Gatwick.
From the Sunday Express
They noted that the technique could be scaled up to create laser-powered drones that could do useful work: “commercial laser-powered flight applications are only a few years away.”
The device came to public attention September 28 2013 when gadget blog Gizmodo published an article entitled Holy Crap, This Real-Life Laser Rifle Cuts Through Metal Like Nothing. The article links to TWI’s YouTube video of the laser in action.
The bill was originally introduced November 15 2012. The sponsor, National MP Dr Cam Calder, said the handheld laser pointers “have the potential to cause considerable harm, and put lives at risk when improperly used.” In addition to a penalty of up to three months in prison and up to a NZD $2000 fine (USD $1650), police also would be able to confiscate lasers.
Dr Calder told Parliament that the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association was “very much” in favor of the bill. In 2012, there were over 100 incidents where lasers were aimed at aircraft and moving vehicles.
According to NZ News, “Labor and the Greens supported the bill, although they had concerns the definitions in the bill might be too broad.” Below is the debate on the bill (after the “Read More…” link.) The bill was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee; their report is due on or before March 25 2014.
In addition, the Ministry of Health is developing regulations addressing the importation and sale of handheld lasers. They are expected to be announced by the end of 2013.
This appears to describe civil cases brought by FAA based on violations of 14 CFR 91.11, which states “No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” The maximum penalty is an $11,000 fine. FAA announced on June 1 2011 its intent to charge laser perpetrators under this law, so the 129 cases referenced above would be since that time.
During the same time period, from June 2011 to September 2013, there were 8,507 reported laser/aircraft incidents in the U.S. This means that 1 out of every 70 reported incidents results in a civil prosecution. Stated another way, 1.5% of all laser/aircraft incidents result in a civil prosecution.
This information was given by a spokesperson for Berlin Tegel airport, speaking after a September 8 2013 incident where a 14-year-old boy aimed a laser at three airplanes landing at the airport.
From BZ-Berlin (original German text and Google-translated English text)
In a September 16 2013 article, HawaiiNewsNow said there were “dozens” of inquiries about the nighttime green light. One person emailed that the aircraft circled his area about six times at 1:00 am, with a wide green laser that appeared to be scanning downward. Another email confirmed the multiple passes with a V-shaped green laser.
The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the work. They stated that the laser is not harmful to the eyes. The Oahu work should take about a week, and mapping the entire state should conclude in November.
From HawaiiNewsNow. Similar flyovers using visible green lasers have occurred in other U.S. cities, such as New York City in 2010 and 2012, according to a a brief Google search of such reports, for example here and the comments here.
The laser-projected image appears to be formed by a holographic diffraction grating, similar to those used in “caps” on laser pointers to make simple logos such as faces, dollar signs and other graphics:
Blaze’s inventor, Emily Brooke, put the product on Kickstarter in November 2013 and reached its funding goal within 27 days. The initial cost of a Blaze is £60 (USD $96).
A description at Kickstarter states that when Blaze is off of its bracket on the bicycle, the laser cannot be turned on, as a safety measure. The internal laser will be a “more powerful module than you’d typically find in a laser pointer”. However, because the beam is spread out by the optical element, it will be a Class 2 laser product with human access safety equivalent to a laser pointer that is less than 1 milliwatt.
She also notes that the laser is aimed down onto the road so it will not dazzle drivers.
UPDATED -- October 27 2014: Blaze is out of Kickstarter and is a product. The new website is at Blaze.cc. According to the website, as of October 2014 the company has sold 3,000 Blaze laser bike lights. The final cost is $200, shipped anywhere worldwide. The laser is a direct-diode green laser, not a DPSS. It is said to be “retina safe.”
A police pilot spokesperson said laser users are not reading the packaging which clearly states not to aim at aircraft. After being caught, "There's been a lot of apologies, a lot of regret, some people not realizing the consequences of what they were doing, and then there's been the far opposite -- I can't believe this is happening, this is ludicrous, this isn't serious, it's just a laser pointer."
The pilot also said that a ban is not the answer: "If it's used properly, it's harmless. It's hard to ban something like that, the sale of it completely if 95% of the general public are using it properly."
He noted that not just police aircraft are being lased. Commercial and private aircraft also are at risk.
Edmonton police helicopter pilots are equipped with safety glasses for use during laser illuminations. They have two pair, one to attenuate red laser light and one to attenuate green laser light.
For details on the two most recent Edmonton incidents, on September 6 and 7 2012, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
From the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun. Thanks to Keith Murland for bringing this to our attention.
The Army/Navy Piloted Aircraft/Visual and Visible Light/Receiving, Passive Detecting (AN/AVR-2B) Laser Detecting Sets (LDS) uses four sensor units placed on the aircraft. It is smaller, lighter and uses less power than a previous generation developed for the cancelled Comanche helicopter program.
News reports did not state how much it costs to equip each helicopter with an AN/AVR-2B system.
One of the four sensor packages to detect laser threats on U.S. military helicopters
According to HealthNewsDigest.com, “All injuries occurred during play and involved teenage boys and young males, between the ages of 11 and 30. Some injuries were accidental, but others involved a playmate intentionally pointing the laser beam at the victim's eye. The distance between the victim's eye and the laser beam ranged from 1.7 feet to 20 feet (a half-meter to 6 meters). Those who suffered retinal holes were injured at the closest distance, around half meter, or 1.7 feet. Generally, injury from greater distance resulted in less serious damage, the authors of the report say.”
The report was presented August 24 2013 during a Toronto meeting of the American Society of Retina Specialists by Fernando Arevalo, M.D. He is professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore Maryland and is also affiliated with the Saudi hospital. Dr. Arevalo hopes that his findings, which were provided to the Minister of Health, will result in changes to how Saudi Arabia regulates handheld lasers.
Using Form 2877, the importer must submit information on each shipment and must affirm that the products comply (or do not comply) with FDA laser regulatory standards. But if a small package omits Form 2877 and is mislabeled (not using the word “laser”), this is an attempt to evade FDA and Customs. FDA specifically notes that such single-package Section 321-type imports do not meet the FDA’s criteria for enforcement discretion for personal importation.
Lasers that FDA is interested in include laser pointers, laser gun sights, laser levels, laser light shows, laser pointer key chains, veterinary laser products, laser illuminators and similar products. If a shipment does not meet FDA requirements, it can then be detained by the FDA and would not be allowed into the country.
From STR Trade Report. Thanks to New Aje Lasers for bringing this to our attention.
The laser pointer coming from lower left leaves a trail of falling “stars,” while the laser coming from the right triggers a glow on a ceiling beam plus a video to play on the ceiling.
The installation, Archifon II, was created by artists Tomáš Dvorák and Dan Gregor.
From Archifon, which has an embedded video of the installation shown above, Archifon II, as well as the first Archifon.
The bill was first submitted in November 2010, in response to ongoing problems in Ocean City, N.J. and other beach resort towns where widespread laser pointer sales in boardwalk shops were leading to harassment incidents and aircraft illuminations.
As passed, the bill states that “No person shall sell or offer to sell a laser pointer that exceeds one milliwatt in output power.” A pointer is further defined as “any device that emits laser light to project a beam that may be used for aiming, targeting or pointing out features.”
The penalty is a civil fine of up to $500 for the first offense, and up to $1000 for each subsequent offense. There are two exemptions: for laser pointers intended to be affixed to a firearm, and for a laser pointer used by or under the supervision of a N.J. licensed healthcare practitioner.
If signed in August 2013 by Gov. Christie, it would take effect December 1 2013.
From CBS New York and New Jersey 101.5. The bill’s legislative history and text is available on the New Jersey Legislature website; use the “Bill Search” feature to search the 2012-2013 legislative session for the keyword “laser”.
UPDATED - October 17 2013: The bill was vetoed on October 17 by Governor Christie. In a statement, he noted that the bill would have gone “well beyond” the federal government’s 5 milliwatt limit for laser pointers. He said there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 and 5 mW in New Jersey. Christie indicated the bill was “arbitrary” and interfered with lawful commerce of pointers typically used in business presentations. The full text of Christie’s veto message is here.
Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles
- August 26 2010: Ocean City officials discuss city-wide ban on laser pointers after summer incidents.
- November 22 2010: State senate bill 2430 is introduced in November 2010 to ban laser pointers above 1 milliwatt.
- June 8 2011: Man buys laser in Ocean City, points it at helicopter, and is almost immediately arrested.
- June 11 2011: Residents report harassment; voluntary sales ban is not working.
- June 24 2011: Unanimous vote on the initial measure to ban Ocean City laser pointer sales and possession.
- July 14 2011: Unanimous vote on the “second reading” to make the Ocean City ban official.
- April 16 2013: North Wildwood NJ bans sale and possession of laser pointers above 1 mW.
- August 20 2013: New Jersey state legislature passes bill to ban laser pointer sales above 1 mW; sends bill to Governor for signature.
- October 17 2013: Governor Chris Christie vetoes bill to ban laser pointer sales, saying the 1 mW power limit was “arbitrary” and there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 mW and the federal limit of 5 mW in New Jersey.
Since 2011, laser pointers above 5 milliwatts are prohibited in Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health is working on proposals to classify laser pointers as weapons and will present these by 2014.
From 20 Minuten (original German text and Google-translated into English)
Laser protection team leader Andy Mott was quoted as saying “Lasers of varying pulse width and wavelength are being developed every day. We protect against the known threats, and unknown ones. We develop protection for electronic sensors of the future, as well as the sighting systems of today.”
More details are at the Military.com story
The new Amazon.com policy requires pre-approval of laser pointers and related products. The products are limited to Class 3R (5 mW) or less and must be branded; examples include Kensington, Quartet, 3M and Logitech. Products must have a testing report from Intertek, UL or SGS.
It is not known if this is a U.S.-only policy or if it extends to other non-U.S. Amazon sites.
The gadget references the Austin Powers spy spoof movies. In 1997’s International Man of Mystery, the character Dr. Evil asks for “frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.” In 2002’s Goldmember, his son Scott actually develops the sharks:
In an August 6 2013 press release and Consumer Health Information article, FDA warned parents that lasers operated unsafely can cause serious eye injuries and even blindness. FDA said injuries from lasers can go unnoticed for days or weeks since there is no pain. But vision can slowly deteriorate over time, eventually causing permanent eye damage.
FDA gave the following as examples of children’s toy laser products:
- Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”;
• Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin;
• Hand held lasers used during play as “light sabers”;
• Dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column; and
• Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.
Interestingly, the FDA’s press release and article gave tips on safe usage, including not aiming at car drivers or sports players -- but did not say that it is unsafe and illegal to aim at aircraft.
On August 7 2013, FDA issued draft guidance for industry on minimizing the risk of lasers in children’s toys. Comments are invited within 90 days of the Federal Register publication of the guidance, or by November 4 2013. The draft guidance is reprinted below.
He said that lasers last year, in 2012, were a “fad”. Visitors to the city purchased them from vendors as an impulse purchase
Horry County, which also passed a similar law, has seen similar results. “So far this year, there has been a large decrease in calls concerning the usage of green lasers and zero citations have been issued,” said Lt. Robert Kegler of the Horry County Police.
In the summer of 2012, there were 70 reports of lasers being aimed at aircraft near Myrtle Beach International Airport. The equivalent number for 2013 is not known.
Both ordinances state that adults improperly using lasers will be charged with assault and battery; the penalty is a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail. They will also be held liable for any damage or personal injury. Minors improperly using lasers will be prosecuted in Family Court, and their parents can be held responsible with a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
From Myrtle Beach Online and CarolinaLive.com
UPDATED September 3 2013: A letter from Coast Guard officials had some additional information: “Notable progress has been made, evident through a recent spring break sting operation that found no businesses selling lasers along the beachfront. There were a of [sic] total 68 laser incidents reported to the FAA in 2012 in the greater Myrtle Beach area. So far in 2013, the Coast Guard has not had any of its aircraft illuminated by lasers in the area. We applaud the efforts made by local leaders and sincerely appreciate the community’s support of the initiative.” The August 30 2013 letter was signed by Capt. Ric Rodriguez, Commander, Coast Guard Sector Charleston and by Commander Gregory Fuller, Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. From Myrtle Beach Online
The proposal was issued in the Federal Register on June 24 2013. The public may send comments to FDA until September 23 2013. FDA will then evaluate the comments, make any changes as a result, and at a future date will put the amendments into effect.
For consumer lasers, the most significant proposal is to create a new category of specific purpose lasers, “children’s toy laser products.” FDA says these could include lasers intended for creating entertaining optical effects, dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column, spinning tops which project laser beams, or lasers mounted on toy guns for “aiming.” FDA defines such toys as “a product that is manufactured, designed, intended or promoted for use by children under 14 years of age.”
The laser inside such a toy would be restricted to Class I (less than 1 mW for visible light). This is because FDA is concerned that if the toy were broken or disassembled, a higher power laser could harm a child.
Some countries such as Australia and the U.K. have restrictions on lasers starting at 1 mW (3R, 3B and 4), while others such as the U.S. have restrictions starting at 5 mW (3B and 4 only).
The Swedish government invites comments on the proposal, EU notification text, number 2013/0365/S-X00M. This can be done up until October 4 2013 by anyone, whether a national of Sweden or not. At the EU notification link, there are additional links to obtain language-specific versions of the proposal; for example, the English draft text of the proposed laser pointer ban.
Comments can be sent to the EU Contact point Directive 98/34 at:
or send a fax to +32 229 98043. Also, Martin Lindgren of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority has requested a copy so he is aware of the comments as well:
Additional details are below.
A new, first-person account from Egypt states that laser pointers were originally used to harass snipers and lookouts using binoculars, and to irritate political enemies. However, the dramatic use of dozens of lasers aimed at Egyptian army helicopters was intended as friendly, being used to “greet” the military who by this time was on the side of the protesters.
(It needs to be noted that, regardless of intent, laser light can flashblind and disrupt pilots. Due to the potential flight and crash hazards, it is illegal in the U.S. and many countries to even aim a laser towards an aircraft.)
This is roughly one-third of the 700 incidents over the same time frame that involved aircraft in or above the West Midlands. (The 480 non-laser incidents included bird strikes, emergency landings, a bomb threat, a dog on the runways and closure of an airfield because of a flying kite.)
On one occasion in July 2011, four different lasers were aimed at a police helicopter in a single incident.
The British Airline Pilots Association asked for prison sentences for persons caught aiming at aircraft, as well as regulations over the sale of high-powered lasers.”
According to West Midlands police, laser attacks on their helicopter have fallen in months prior to July 2013.
From the Birmingham Mail. See also a related LaserPointerSafety.com article on BALPA’s laser pointer suggestions.
The bright rays and the lens flare effects were not captured by the camera but were added later. This may have been done for artistic effect, or to make the lasers look more dangerous. However, this incident does serve as a reminder that “you can’t always believe what you see”.
An aerial view, as seen on Egyptian network Capital Broadcasting Center, gives an idea of what the lasers looked like approaching Tahrir Square. In this scene, there is one blue beam and roughly 30 green beams.
There have been no reports of injuries to the air crews, or of the laser light causing the pilots to lose control. [UPDATE, July 8 2013: A first-person account states that the pointers were friendly, intended to “greet” the army pilots who at this point were on the side of the protesters.]
The laser injury claim rate has increased from about 5 per year to about 13 per year, over the 2000-to-2013 period. The increase works out to 0.73 additional claim per year. This increase is one reason that New Zealand is taking action in 2013 to restrict higher-power handheld lasers.
BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan asked for a government cross-agency summit to address the problem. BALPA requested stronger regulations restricting the sale of high-powered lasers, more prosecutions, and action taken through trading standards.
He said that hotspots include airports at Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Heathrow.
From ITV London and ITV Granada
The LaseReflect Aviator LRG10 glasses are said to mitigate the effects of laser illumination incidents. They reflect more than 99% of 532 nanometer green laser light, the most common color in laser attacks. (According to FAA statistics, about 95% of reported incidents in recent years have involved green light.) They also reflect near-infrared light at 1064 nm, which often is a byproduct of green lasers that are not manufactured with adequate IR-blocking filters. The cost is USD $299.
Custom LaseReflect Aviator glasses are available for specific colors and powers, including multiple wavelengths in a single pair of glasses. For example, blue (405 nm and 445 nm) and red (650 nm) light can also be reflected by the glasses.
This is being posted because some persons may find the ideas presented to be useful. An additional resource is a page at the International Laser Display Association, about damage to cameras at laser light shows.
From Image Sensors World
In 2012 and previous years, FAA was able to release detailed weekly reports tracking the number, type, and other data about laser incidents. But due to budget considerations in 2013, FAA has not yet been able to disseminate any reports. Thus, there is some uncertainty in the 1,500 approximation.
Based on this uncertainty, LaserPointerSafety.com has calculated that there could be between 1% and 16% more laser incidents in 2013 than in 2012. If accurate, any increase would represent a setback from the 2012 totals, which were 3% lower than in 2011. Having a rise in incidents would indicate that the publicity and prosecutions which form the majority of current U.S. anti-laser efforts are not having the desired effect.
The 2013 estimate of 3,774 incidents is based on comparing FAA reports from Jan. 1 to June 12 2013 to the same time period in 2012, and then extrapolating the 8.4% increase over the entire year. However, FAA changed their reporting procedures in 2013 so it is unclear how much of the estimated increase, if any, is an actual increase and how much is due to the new reporting procedures.
For the last comprehensive FAA figures, see our page Latest 2012 laser/aircraft incident statistics.
UPDATE, August 16 2013: New information shows 2,200 incidents from January 1 through August 2 2013. This is an 18% increase over the same period in 2012. Also, it does appear that FAA’s 2013 incident reports are comparable to 2012’s -- they have not yet significantly changed their reporting procedures or criteria. More information is at this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
Because the laser pulse wavelength used was in the infrared, and the cells were cultured (not live retinas) there is no current practical use for pilots and others looking for glasses-free resistance to visible laser light. However, this research may open up other avenues as it does indicate that perhaps the retina can be “hardened.”
Lasers in the 1 watt range have been widely available since the mid-2010 introduction of the Wicked Laser Spyder III Arctic blue laser. This is the first handheld 3 watt laser that LaserPointerSafety.com has been aware of.
The new law will not cover low-power lasers below 1 milliwatt which are used for presentations, surveying or gun sights. It will control importation, and will restrict use of higher-power handhelds to “authorized users who have a legitimate purpose such as astronomers, researchers and the NZ Defence Force”, according to an Associate Health Minister.
The study found that helicopters were 3.4 times as likely to be illuminated at altitudes below 2,000 feet than fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopter aircrews were twice as likely to report adverse effects such as distraction, vision interference, operational problems, and pain.
The study also broke down adverse effects by the type of flight, such as commercial, law enforcement, medical and military.
One conclusion of the study is that the “results may also justify the expense of equipping rotary-wing aircraft (particularly law enforcement aircraft) with laser detection and tracking devices to improve the possibility of apprehending perpetrators of these offenses.”
A detailed summary is at LaserPointerSafety.com’s 2013 FAA helicopter study webpage. The full 6-page report is available online from the FAA.
The bill was introduced by Representative Liston Barfield. He represents Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, resort towns which have been plagued with incidents of laser pointer harassment by youths and others. In 2012, there were more than 70 area incidents where laser pointers were aimed at aircraft, including Coast Guard search-and-rescue operations that were abandoned due to fear of laser exposure.
This was done after about 40 complaints to police in 2012, most of which "turned out to be kids playing with the laser pointers" according to the deputy police chief. The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority had also contacted the city regarding lasers pointed at aircraft. The ordinance language notes that "the illegal use of laser pointers creates risks and dangers for those targeted by the beam of the laser as well as for the residents of and visitors to the city of North Wildwood.”
Ordinance 1622 had its "first reading" on April 16, meaning it did not become law. The second reading, and possible adoption as a law, was set for the City Council meeting the evening of May 7 2013.
To see the video, click this link to YouTube. Following this link should also lead to the bonus content videos.
To get a flavor of the training video, click the “Read More…” link below for a list of selected excerpts and interesting statements.
An April 2013 investigation by the Scottish Express found 338 incidents in Scotland from January 1 2011 through February 13 2013. Only 12, or 3.5 percent, had been solved. The paper noted that the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) suggests there are 12 incidents involving lasers each day globally. [Note: The U.S. rate is approximately 9-10 per day, indicating the rest of the world’s rate is 2-3 per day which LaserPointerSafety.com believes to be higher.] An IATA spokesperson said the organization “support[s] strong penalties for anyone caught engaging in the act.”
The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority said there were 152 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in 2012, compared with 136 incidents at Glascow Airport which has 1/10 the number of passengers.
The Scottish Express story contains additional statistics on Scotland airport lasing rates.
From the Scottish Express
From the New York Post
Laser pointer hazards for pilots
- A study of the actual output of 40 laser pointers, with powers up to 1.5 Watts, showed significant differences between measured and calculated hazard levels. In some cases, the actual hazard measured at some spots inside the beam was three times the estimated hazard. This is due to the laser output not being smooth in all cases, but instead the beams having “hot spots”. The study also showed that windscreens reduced the beam irradiance -- which is safer for pilots -- from 5% to 60%. (Note however that the McLin study described below showed that windscreens also spread the beam and thus increase glare.)
- A discussion of how being inside the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of a laser beam does NOT mean instant blindness for pilots and others.For example, consider a 1 Watt, 1 milliradian laser where the recommended safety distance (NOHD) is 733 feet. If possible, you should be at least 733 feet from the laser before exposing an eye to the direct beam. What is the actual hazard? At 232 feet from this laser, there is a 50/50 chance of the beam causing a barely observable retinal lesion under laboratory conditions where the laser and eye are fixed in place. Due to motion of the aircraft and hand-holding the laser, the chance of a retinal lesion is likely to be less. The distance from 232 feet (“ED50”) out to the NOHD at 733 feet is a known “safety factor” where the chance of retinal injury decreases even further. At the NOHD there is a “vanishingly small risk of hazardous exposure” (Sliney, 2013). Police and other first responder pilots can use this information to better weigh the risk of laser exposure to laser light vs. the benefits of completing a mission (rescuing a person, apprehending criminals, etc.). This presentation also discusses ways to make flight near lasers safer for pilots. A PDF file of all the slides presented is here.
For additional ILSC 2013 papers, click the “Read More…” link.
7,378 lasers were seized, along with 8,780 parts from which lasers could be assembled. It was estimated that the company sold over 35,000 laser pointers from 2009-2011, generating income of over £1,000,000 (USD $1,600,000).
Techyun Hii, 33, pleaded guilty to four charges of laser pointer violations and a fifth charge of unsafe power chargers. He was sentenced to a 180 day jail term suspended for 18 months, and to 300 hours of community service. The lasers were later incinerated in a hospital’s furnace.
Lead author John O’Hagan detailed the HPA’s findings in a paper presented at the March 2013 International Laser Safety Conference in Orlando. The case had previously been reported by LaserPointerSafety.com.
The findings were made public at a March 20 2013 meeting of the International Laser Safety Conference.
Researcher Joshua Hadler designed the measurement device to be accurate, inexpensive and easy-to-use. It would cost roughly $2000 in equipment costs to make a copy of the NIST device; plans are available from NIST for interested parties.
From a NIST press release, March 20 2013.
Click here for the full press release: Read More...
The author, Trevor Wheatley, is chair of the Standards Australia SF-019 Committee on laser safety. He studied 41 lasers purchased online in 2012 that were claimed by the sellers to be legal -- lower than the Australian import limit of 1 milliwatt. Most cost less than AUS $20.
Wheatley found that 95% of these pointers were illegal under Australian law, with outputs above 1 mW. Of the 41, 78% were between 5 mW and 100 mW. (5 mW is generally taken to be the highest safe power for a general purpose laser pointer.)
Based on Wheatley's research, "...there would appear to be a greater than 50% chance that someone attempting to buy a 'safe' laser pointer would inadvertently get a hazardous laser." Further, 100% of the tested laser pointers below $20 "would represent prohibited weapons in most Australian states."
From other statistics, the paper states that "availability has not been significantly impacted." In 2007/2008 there were 648 incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft. In 2010/2011, well after the import and possession restrictions, the number of incidents had increased to 828.
According to a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, gold-tinted eyewear has been used by military pilots for laser protection but only works against certain wavelengths of laser light. However, said Dan Macchiarella, if Thomas’ idea “could be applied to lasers of all strengths and wavelengths, that would certainly be a big advancement.”
A March 10 2013 Orlando Sentinel story noted that funding cuts and competition for grants mean that Thomas’ research faces “some serious hurdles” to develop this idea further. Thomas said finding research money is “going to be very difficult, very difficult.”
From the Orlando Sentinel
The Yahoo Sports story noted that laser pens are often misused by European soccer fans. In late February 2013, two world-famous players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, were targeted during a pair of games.
Ronaldo (left) and Messi, illuminated by lasers during matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona
Josephburg told Yahoo Sports that athletes could be especially at risk, since lasers could cause serious damage from an exposure of a few seconds. He said “If I was a ball player I would be terrified. I only hope that Congress acts on this before some real harm is done.”
Lasers with powers of over 50 milliwatts are dangerous, Josephburg said, and can have serious effects almost immediately. The only effective deterrent is to punish possession or use of high-powered pointers, according to Josephburg: “There is simply no need for a regular person to have one of these.”
From Yahoo Sports
US: North Myrtle Beach bans sale of lasers over 1 mW, and bans possession by minors in detailed new law
The changes include:
- Air Traffic Control can now regard a laser illumination of aircraft incident as an “in-flight emergency”, due to the potential debilitating injuries which could compromise safety and interfere with aircrew duties.
- New web-based methods by which pilots can report incidents
- Additional information in the Resources and the Related Documents sections
The key part of the document is the reporting procedure: “On arrival at destination, all aircrews that have been affected by an unauthorized laser illumination are requested to complete the Laser Beam Exposure Questionnaire. The questionnaire is located on the FAA’s Laser Safety Initiative Web site at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/ and can be electronically submitted. The questionnaire may also be printed and faxed to the WOCC at (202) 267-5289, ATTN: DEN, or emailed to email@example.com.”
From FAA Advisory Circular 70-2A
- Aircraft type: Airplane, rotorcraft, lighter than air, other
- Type of operation: Commercial aviation, general aviation, military, law enforcement, medical, news reporting, other
- Time of day: Daytime, around sunset, dusk/twilight, nighttime before midnight local time, nighttime on or after midnight local time, around sunrise, dawn/morning twilight
- Phase of flight: Taxi, takeoff, climb to altitude, cruise altitude, descent, final approach, landing, low-altitude, hover, other
Effect on flight
- Did the laser interfere with crew duties? Yes (describe), no
- Did the laser cause a change in flight path? No, minor/non-adverse change, major/adverse change
- Did the laser disrupt a law enforcement, medical or military mission? Yes (describe), no
- Did the laser appear to track the aircraft? Yes, no, other
- Did the laser illuminate any part of the cockpit? Yes, no, other
- Did the laser shine directly into one or both of your eyes? Did not shine directly, shined a little, shined brightly
Effect on illuminated pilots or crew
- Choose from a list of vision effects: None, glare, temporary flashblindness or afterimages, blind spot(s), blurry vision, significant loss of night vision, other
- Choose from a list of physical effects: None, watering eyes, eye discomfort/pain, headache, shock, disorientation or dizziness, other
- Did you rub your eye after exposure: No, a little, vigorously
If there was an eye exam
- Type of doctor who did the most comprehensive exam: Retinal specialist, ophthalmologist, optometrist, optician, emergency room doctor/nurse, other
- List results of the exam
Prior laser knowledge
- Did you have any prior knowledge or training? None, basic info, detailed specific info on how to “recognize and recover”, simulator training with laser or laser-like exposure, other
From FAA Laser Beam Exposure Questionnaire
What is an FAA-reported “laser incident”?: This is defined as an aircraft pilot seeing one or more laser beams during flight. A mid-2011 study by Rockwell Laser Industries of 6,903 incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration found that in 27% of incidents, beams entered the cockpit (passed through the windscreen). For example, in 2011, there were 3,591 incidents of which approximately 970 (27%) involved beams in the cockpit.
Year-to-Date ComparisonThe 3,482 reported U.S. laser/aircraft incidents in 2012 compare with 3,591 incidents during 2011, approximately 2,836 incidents during 2010, and approximately 1,527 incidents during 2009.
The number of U.S. laser incidents decreased slightly in 2012
Projected 2013 Estimate
If the number of laser/aircraft incidents in 2013 continues to decrease at the same rate as from 2011 to 2012 (-3.04%), then there would be 3,376 incidents in 2013.
Adverse EffectsIn 36 (1.0%) of the 3,482 laser/aircraft incidents in 2012, a pilot or aircraft occupant reported a temporary adverse visual effect such as flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache. In four of the 36 eye incidents, the eye effect may have been more serious or long-lasting. In no incidents, either in 2012 or in previous years, was there any permanent eye damage.
Total Incidents, 2004 to DateThere have been approximately 13,737 laser/aircraft incidents reported to FAA, from January 1 2004 through December 31 2012.
“CDRH recommends (but does not require) labeling on your product that cautions the purchaser with following or similar language: “CAUTION - LASER LIGHT IS BRIGHT AND BLINDING - DO NOT SHINE AT AIRCRAFT OR VEHICLES AT ANY DISTANCE”.
While FDA can require the familiar labels warning against laser eye and skin hazards, FDA does not have statutory authority to require labels for non-health hazards such as laser distraction or temporary flash blinding. Thus, the agency is only able to recommend -- but not require -- the new aircraft/vehicle caution label.
News of the action came in a December 7 2012 FDA email sent to parties including LaserPointerSafety.com. According to CDRH’s Daniel Hewett, the action applies to all “SLA products.” FDA/CDRH considers that laser pointers and handheld lasers are a subset of such Surveying, Leveling and Alignment laser products. SLA lasers are one of the three laser product uses which FDA can regulate under 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11; the other two are medical and demonstration (education/light show) laser product uses.
From a Dec. 7 2012 FDA email. Thanks to Daniel Hewett for bringing this to our attention.
The ordinance would make it illegal to sell lasers over 1 milliwatt, or to sell any green laser to persons under 18. Adults misusing lasers would be charged with assault and battery, with a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and being held liable for any damage or personal injury. Minors misusing lasers would be prosecuted in Family Court, plus parents would be held responsible and could be fined or jailed.
In addition, a warning would be required with the sale of every laser pointer.
Under county procedure, it takes three “readings” at council meetings to pass an ordinance. Based on the council’s schedule, the earliest it could be passed would be in January 2013.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The bill does not appear to have any laser power limitation; thus, even possession of a laser less than 1 milliwatts (legal in most countries) would be banned under the proposed legislation.
The key text is as follows:
“13B Possession of hand-held lasers
“(1) Every person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, in any public place, without reasonable excuse, has any hand-held laser in his or her possession.
“(2) Any constable may without warrant seize and detain any hand- held laser which there is reasonable ground to suppose is in contravention of subsection (1) of this section.
“(3) On convicting any person of an offence against subsection (1) of this section, the Court may order that the hand-held laser be forfeited to the Crown.
“(4) In this section hand-held laser means any hand-held device, designed or adapted to emit a laser beam.”
From MSNNZ News and CamCalder.co.nz. The full text of the bill, including an introductory explanatory section, can be downloaded as a PDF file.
UPDATED September 25 2013: The bill unanimously passed its first reading. LaserPointerSafety.com has an article on this, plus a transcript of the debate.
New Zealand does not have laws restricting the import, use and sale of high-powered laser pointers.
The deadline for commenting is December 14 2012 at 5 pm. The New Zealand laser pointer consultation document can be downloaded from here.
Feedback from the consultation will help the government determine its final proposals.
The pilots expressed concern following the September 2012 conviction of a teenager who aimed a green pointer at three commercial aircraft and a police helicopter in January 2012.
The NZALPA president said “It has reached a stage where any member of the public can purchase a commercial grade laser and do what they please with it.”
From Radio New Zealand and Voxy
A pilot from the Air Line Pilots Association told of his experiences when hit by laser light, and said that “Laser illumination can cause temporary blindness and even permanently damage a pilot’s eyes, potentially leading to an aircraft accident…Individuals must understand the danger and their responsibility to report anyone who misuses lasers.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is sending officers to schools near airports, to explain the hazards of lasers to children, and to warn them against aiming at aircraft.
An FBI agent said that the bureau is worried about adults and deliberate attacks by terrorists. Fines can range up to $11,000, said an FAA representative. a Coast Guard pilot said that rules requiring helicopters to break off rescues if they are directly lasered, adds to the risk of those the Coast Guard is trying to rescue.
The various law enforcement officials said they were asking the public to call 911 or local authorities if they see misuse, because laser incidents are so frequent and it is rare to apprehend the perpetrators.
A radio station public service announcement has been produced and aired by radio station NJ 101.5. It warns listeners not to aim at aircraft.
From NBC New York and New Jersey 101.5
US: No new laser ordinance yet in Horry County, South Carolina. Due to increasing incidents involving Coast Guard and other aircraft, and increased harassment of citizens, the county considered a new ordinance but tabled it for more study. This area includes Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. From Myrtle Beach Online, September 4.
US: Horry County, South Carolina, to consider a ban on laser pointers above 1 milliwatt. The article gives details on the proposed ordinance to curb widespread laser misuse. Billboards also have appeared in the county, warning about laser misuse. From Myrtle Beach Online, September 1.
A billboard in the Myrtle Beach area
UK: Lasers posing a “real threat” were seized from a shop in Crawley, West Sussex. One laser tested was “five times what is considered safe for eyes” and could cause a “serious temporary distortion of vision” or if aimed at drivers or pilots, “could have serious and potentially fatal consequences.” From West Sussex Today, August 12 and This Is Sussex, August 15.
US: Laser hits on Coast Guard aircraft from Air Station Savannah have halted air searches, according to a Coast Guard blog post. Incidents and statistics are given in the post, written by Lt. Stephanie Young. From the Coast Guard Compass, August 14.
US: The Horry (S.C.) County Council heard a presentation by the Coast Guard on the recent laser hits to their rescue helicopters, and on the hazards of lasers to aviation. They were told that a direct hit immediately grounds the helicopter. From CarolinaLive, August 14.
US: Problems with harassment and aviation interference, in the Myrtle Beach and Horry County area, are detailed in a story from the Post and Courier, August 12.
Note: Some of the above stories are part of continuing coverage at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The paper, ranked 13th in the country with a circulation of 393,000 weekday subscribers, said “It’s a serious offense that should be firmly punished…. Heavy fines, and in some cases, jail time, would send a powerful message that it’s a life-threatening crime.”
The editorial was the result of incidents in the Long Island area in the past month. It was titled “Enforce anti-laser laws with laser-like force.”
From Newsday. Subscriber information from USA Today.
From the Yorkshire Evening Post
On July 29 2012, the Police Department issued a press release detailing the law’s requirements and penalties. To see the release, click the “Read More” link below.
Via WGMD. See also a related story from DelMarVaNow.com.
From the Associated Press via the Wall Street Journal. To read the text of Schumer’s letter to the FDA, and his press release, click the Read More link below.
A meeting was held with local officials, including representatives from Myrtle Beach, the Coast Guard, the Chamber of Commerce and the Horry County Council, to discuss options. The director of airports said that existing ordinances are not enough. He wants “a way to look at regulating the size and power of lasers that are sold in our community and region.”
Rather than local cities passing ordinances, one approach is for county-wide regulations. The topic will continue to be discussed at future county council meetings.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The local Coast Guard echoes the concerns. Twice in two weeks, search and rescue missions were ended prematurely because of lasers being aimed at helicopters. (See a report here.) Under Coast Guard regulations, after laser exposure the aircraft is grounded and the pilots are medically evaluated before being allowed to fly again.
The Coast Guard issued a letter asking the public to stop aiming at aircraft, and saying that they want to enforce South Carolina’s state law against lading aircraft. The letter is reprinted below (click the “Read More” link).
From WMBF News. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach.
The information came at an August 1 2012 press conference where representatives from SACAA, airline pilots, a laser expert, and others spoke about the potential hazards of lasers being aimed at aircraft. SACAA was planning a public information campaign to warn about laser-aircraft hazards.
Penalties include a fine or up to 10 years in prison. But only three people have been caught. One was a minor and charges were dropped. The other two cases had “dragged on in the courts and the SACAA had lost track of them.”
From The Citizen. Additional statistics and information are in a story from Defense Web.
The August 2012 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit hinges on instructions given to the jury during Gerard Sasso’s trial in January 2010. The judge in that trial told the jury that Sasso could be convicted for willfully aiming the laser at the helicopter. The judge also said that the government did not have to prove that Sasso knew that his aiming would interfere with the pilot.
A vacationer staying in a local campground says the park banned green lasers. Patrick has written to the Horry County Council and has spoken at a local Public Safety Committee meeting to get rental property owners to ban them. He says “They serve no useful function at all. In fact, the only function they have is to harass people.”
Patrick would like a complete ban on lasers.
In the city of North Myrtle Beach, there have been 10 warning tickets issued between November 2011 and July 2012 for violations of a local laser pointer ordinance.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The story did not give additional details. It is assumed this data is for all of Australia, since DIT is a federal agency.
From The Age
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: Australia’s laser/aircraft incident rate appears to be 2.8 times the U.S. rate, based on incidents per capita. This is despite the fact that Australia has nationwide import restrictions on laser pointers, and that many Australian states severely restrict or ban possession of laser pointers.
There may be other reasons for this discrepancy. Perhaps laser incidents are not counted the same way in these two countries. Perhaps population is not the best way to compare the two countries’ laser incident rates.
However, on first analysis it appears that Australia has a significant problem with lasers being aimed at aircraft even though widespread restrictions on availability and possession of laser pointers. This is a preliminary indication that bans and restrictions may not work as anticipated. They may need to be combined with other actions, or it may be that other actions have more of an effect to reduce the incident rate.
Calculation details: Australia’s population is estimated at 22,680,322 as of July 25 2012. Australia had 733 incidents in 2011 according to The Age story above. This is a rate of 1 incident for every 30,942 persons. The U.S. population is estimated at 313,979,000 as of the same date. The U.S. had 3,591 laser incidents in 2011. This is a rate of 1 incident for every 87,435 persons.
Illegal imports of laser pointers explode - 24 July 2012
Customs and Border Protection is warning travellers and online shoppers about Australia’s tough laws prohibiting the import of laser pointers.
This follows a dramatic increase in the number of these dangerous items being seized by officers at the border.
In the past year, the number of laser pointers seized by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Sydney International Mail Centre alone has increased by close to 60 per cent, from around 9,000 to over 14,000.
Australian import officers spill out a container full of confiscated packages of illegally-imported laser pointers.
Importing laser pointers greater than one milliwatt in intensity is prohibited in Australia without a permit.
“The sheer volume of these importations suggests that people do not understand the threat these items pose to safety, particularly to commercial aircraft,” said National Manager Cargo Operations, Jagtej Singh.
Customs and Border Protection officers are trained to detect prohibited and restricted items from the millions of items which arrive each week.
“If you try and import laser pointers without a permit, there’s a high possibility they’ll be found by Customs and Border Protection, seized, and you may even face fines of up to $275,000.”
Customs and Border Protection has produced a video clip outlining the risks being taken by people who inadvertently or deliberately breach the laws on laser pointers.
It can be viewed on the agency’s YouTube channel.
According to this video, “Customs officers screen all incoming mail imported into Australia, and items such as laser pointers WILL show up on X-ray.”
Media enquiries: Customs and Border Protection Media (02) 6275 6793
From Australia Customs and Border Protection
Laser pointers are available for as little as $4 at many beachfront stores catering to tourists.
The president of a Myrtle Beach helicopter tour company says that his aircraft are hit “two, three times a week, sometimes more.” He says the increase makes him nervous for his pilots and clients. He says there is no education for laser pointer buyers about the potential hazard.
Click for video interview with Huffman Helicopter president Jeremy Bass.
From Vertical magazine
Rose refers to YouTube clips where handheld lasers are pointed at moving dots of light in the sky.
The agency states that battery-powered pointers and handhelds “manufactured, advertised, sold, imported or leased should be limited to … Class 3R” which is less than 5 mW visible output. It is unclear whether “should” is advisory or is a regulatory requirement.
The document focuses on eye, skin and fire hazards of lasers and does not discuss the problem of visual interference with pilots’ or drivers’ vision while operating vehicles.
From Newswire. The 2012 Health Canada press release is below (after the Read More… link). The July 2011 press release is here.
From the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
33-year-old Techyun Hii ran Sky Laser Pointers from his home in Ribbleton, a suburb of Preston, Lancashire. In 2011, Lancashire Trading Standards officials found he had lasers that were up to 150 milliwatts, substantially over the U.K. limit of 1 milliwatts for laser pens sold to the public through an eBay store. Three packages were being sent to Greece, just before the Greek riots. He had been warned twice before about U.K. laws and his obligations.
In April 2012, investigators placed a test purchase which led to Hii’s arrest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of selling illegal goods, and will be sentenced July 4 2012.
From the Lancashire Evening Post
UPDATED November 25 2012: Hii was sentenced to a 180 day jail term, suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work. The lasers sere destroyed by burning them in a hospital’s furnace. From the Lancashire Evening Post.
UPDATED March 22 2013: The case was the subject of a paper in the Proceedings of the 2013 International Laser Safety Conference, “Laser Product Assessment for Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service” by John O’Hagan, Michael Higlett and Marina Khazova, pp. 181-188. A summary of the paper is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.
According to the Toronto Star, from January 1 to late May 2012 there have been 36 laser incidents at Pearson International and other Toronto-area airports, and 100 incidents nationwide. (This is probably based on their own analysis of the CADORS incident database since the Transport Canada chart above only went through the first quarter of 2012.)
WestJet has arranged for a Calgary-based ophthalmologist to examine pilots’ eyes after laser incidents. A spokesperson said “We want to have an individual identified in every major city so we can send that (pilot) right away to be tested.”
Canada lags other countries in aggressively prosecuting offenders, according to the chair of the flight safety division of the Air Canada Pilots Association: “The judicial system should apply the law to its maximum extent rather than soft-shoeing around the issue.” At the federal level, aiming a “directed bright light” at an aircraft is illegal under the Aeronautics Act. The maximum penalties are a prison term of five years and a fine of $100,000.
From the Toronto Star; chart courtesy Transport Canada
UPDATE, May 30 2012: At LaserPointerSafety.com’s request, Transport Canada analyzed first quarter incident statistics for the past three years. They found 29 incidents in Q1 2010, 27 incidents in Q1 2011, and 53 incidents in Q1 2012. (Note that they found two additional Q1 2012 incidents which were not included in the province-by-province breakdown above.) A Transport Canada spokesperson speculated that reasons for increased incidents in general may include increased awareness and reporting by pilots, and “copycat” actions by persons who would not think to aim a laser at aircraft until they hear news reports of incidents.
The bill amends the Commonwealth’s Acts of Assembly Chapter 5.1-22, covering interference with aircraft to also prohibit “projecting a point of light from a laser, laser gun sight, or any other device that simulates a laser at an aircraft…” The only exception is for persons authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration or by U.S. armed forces. Violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
From the Virginia Legislative Information System and FairfaxTimes.com.
From the Scotsman
FAA has directed its staff not to seek warning notices or counseling, but to use “moderately high civil penalties” for inadvertent laser illuminations, and maximum penalties for deliberate violations.
In a video provided by FAA, LaHood said “I wonder how stupid people really can be” for not knowing that laser light could “cause great harm if the pilot is not able to continue to fly the plane safely…. people’s lives could be in jeopardy.” LaHood also said people should “understand that there are serious consequences to shining a laser at a pilot.”
The complete press release is below (click the “Read More...” link). This also has links to video and audio from LaHood and the acting FAA Administrator.
Police warned of the hazards of endangering pilots and drivers, and noted that a violation could result in being sentenced to prison for life.
From This Is Derbyshire and the Loughborough Echo
It is not clear whether the filter is available at this time (May 2012). The company intends to incorporate it into glasses and night-vision goggles worn by pilots, to protect against flash blindness, meaning power densities from 100 µW/cm² up to 1000 µW/cm².
The late April 2012 undertaking was inspired by a recurring theme of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, who wanted a weapon of “frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads.”
This is not the first time such a project has been done. In 2007, Kip Kedersha (“Kipkay”) posted a YouTube video showing how he bought a surplus Playstation 3 laser diode for $45 and a Star Trek toy for $30, in order to make a laser-emitting phaser.
A Huffington Post story has the 2012 video, as well as links to earlier videos and detailed build instructions.
From Reddit via the Huffington Post
Below are highlights from the document, which gives some background information and statistics, and then describes how affected crew should prepare for and react to a laser attack. (Emphasis in bold added by LaserPointerSafety.com.)
The ALESA card is available in hard copy, and can also be downloaded from CAA’s website. If downloaded, the Amsler Grid on the first page should be printed so it is 10 x 10 cm.
When staring at the dot in the center of the grid, if the lines appear distorted or there are blank or faded areas, there may be a problem. The person is encouraged to remove themselves from aviation-related duties such as flying or air traffic control, and to see an eye specialist.
The second page has a flowchart of exposure conditions leading either to a “1” meaning unlikely eye damage or a “2” meaning eye damage possibility. If the person scores a “2”, the flowchart suggests they see an eye specialist.
From PilotWeb and the CAA ALESA webpage. The CAA press release about ALESA is here.
On March 25 2012, an ATNS statement noted that air traffic control towers have been illuminated by laser light, in addition to airplanes and helicopters. ATNS said there have been at least two arrests, but thus far, no prosecutions.
South African aviation groups are joining together to publicize the hazards and penalties of aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also considering strengthening laws. According to the statement, laser ownership requires a permit, but illegal sales are taking place via imports and black market stores.
From The Star via Independent Online, News 24, and the Daily News. Thanks to Dr. Ian Powell for bringing this to our attention. The ATNS press release is after the link (click “Read More…”).
UPDATE, November 20 2012: The bill did not pass. According to Arora, it “passed the House of Delegates in March  but ultimately failed to reach a vote in the state Senate during the final hours of the regular legislative session, when a budget showdown between the two chambers effectively killed scores of bills that were scheduled for votes.” It was reintroduced in November 2012, as discussed in this story.
AIRCRAFT LASER ATTACK BILL PASSES MARYLAND HOUSE, MOVES TO SENATE
Bill Would Punish Shining Laser Pointers at Pilots in Flight
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A measure aimed at curbing a dangerous trend targeting aircraft passed the Maryland House of Delegates Monday afternoon and now will head to the state Senate for approval.
The bill, the Laser Safety Act (HB 130), sponsored by Maryland State Delegate Sam Arora (D-Montgomery Co.), seeks stiffer penalties for people who shine laser pointers into aircraft cockpits, potentially blinding pilots in flight. The Act would carry a penalty of up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Current law only permits for a $500 fine for “misuse of a laser pointer”.
- U.S. airports had 9,079,000 flights in 2011, with 3,591 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. This is a rate of one U.S. laser incident for every 2,528 flights. Said another way, this is 0.40 incidents per 1,000 flights.
- U.K. airports had 2,152,787 flights in 2011, with 1,909 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority. This is a rate of one U.K. laser incident for every 1,128 flights. Said another way, this is 0.89 incidents per 1,000 flights.
The ratio of U.K. to U.S. rates is 2.24, meaning that the U.K. had more than twice the number of laser incidents than the U.S., when adjusted for the number of flights. (Important note: These figures do NOT mean that commercial aircraft are targeted at the rates indicated. Many laser incidents involve police helicopters. The analysis is simply meant to compare the two countries’ rates of laser misuse against aircraft of all types.)
It should also be noted that there could be many underlying factors affecting the precise numbers. For example, it is not known if the U.S. counts laser incidents in the same way as the U.K.
However, the figures do indicate that the U.K. rate of laser incidents appears to be significantly higher -- roughly twice the U.S. rate, based on the number of flights.
From an analysis by LaserPointerSafety.com, March 22 2012.
Updated May 27 2012 to correct a math error and make clear that it is the United Kingdom which has a higher rate of laser incidents (e.g., more incidents per 1000 flights). Our thanks to Brian Turner for pointing out this error.
Methodology: We define a “flight” as a takeoff plus a landing. US flight figures are from the Airline Activity “departures” statistic from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It is assumed that each flight which departs also lands, so the data is accurate for “flights” as we have defined it. UK flight figures are from totaling column G, Total ATMs, from “Table 4, 1 Air Transport Movements 2011” found on the CAA UK Airport Statistics 2011 page. A UK “movement” is one takeoff plus one landing, so this is the same as our “flights” definition.
While the flight statistics compare only airline (US) and air transport (UK) flights, and do not include law enforcement flights, we believe this is a valid “apples to apples” comparison of how many more flights take place in the U.S. than in the U.K. A previous LaserPointerSafety.com analysis showed that law enforcement flights are less than 1% of the total flights from U.S. airports. Inclusion of law enforcement flight numbers would not significantly change the ratio of U.S.-to-U.K. flights.
The proposed bill would 1) establish the offense of unlawful pointing of a laser device at a law enforcement officer, and 2) prohibit aiming a laser pointer or projecting a laser on or at an aircraft or the flight path of an aircraft. The legislative history of the bill, including the full text of the Senate and House versions, is at the Georgia General Assembly website. We have also put the full text of the House version on the U.S. laws page here at LaserPointerSafety.com.
One interesting point is that the bill contains an exemption for “laser or laser pointer airspace uses that have been reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.” This is a broader provision than the recently passed U.S. law, which only permits certain FAA-reviewed uses such as research and development.
In the view of LaserPointerSafety.com, the Georgia bill’s language is more flexible and still maintains safety, since they leave it up to the FAA to determine what outdoor laser uses are approved (technically, “non-objected”).
In 2011, a law was introduced by MP Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West), to make it a criminal offense to shine a laser into an aircraft cockpit.
According the Civil Aviation Authority, there were 1,909 laser incidents in the U.K. in 2011, compared with three in 2008. [Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: The 2008 statistic is almost certainly incorrect. A previous LaserPointerSafety.com news item from BBC News reported 27 lasers were used against commercial aircraft in 2007, and there were 80 cases from January through September 2008.]
From the Bradford Telegraph and Argus
One speaker noted “…we have had kinetic weapons for 500 years and laser weapons for 10-15 years…. The soldier wants a reliable, easy-to-handle, clear to understand system that has the reliability of a normal M16 rifle, or whatever, therefore the superiority is on the kinetic side.”
Two-frame animated GIF showing bright and dim light from the Lozano Observatory (center) near the city of San Antonio (left). North is to the right in this photo from the International Space Station, taken by astronaut Don Pettit. Click on photo for a larger version.
The spotlights were flashed at the ISS by holding plywood sheets in front of the lights every two seconds. This procedure can be seen in the video below.
The animated GIF above shows a bright blue light alternating with a dim light. The bright light is almost certainly from the spotlights. The bluish tint may be an artifact of oversaturating the camera’s sensor. Astronaut Don Pettit reported that the bright light appeared white, and the dim light appeared blue. He wrote “We could only see the laser when the white light was off and not all the time.” (E.g., the white spotlights overpowered the blue laser.) He added, “It was like there were tracking issues with the laser to keep it on target.”
The dim light in the animated GIF may be the laser only, or it may be light from the spotlights that wasn’t fully blocked by the plywood sheets. The astronomers will be working with Pettit, trying to pin down exactly how visible the laser light was.
Author John Wills notes that laser sights are not as effective beyond 20 feet, and they do not substitute for marksmanship techniques such as grip and stance.
Glock Model 23 with M6 Tactical Laser Illuminator (xenon light plus red laser pointer < 5 mW).
Image from nukeit1 at Flickr, CC by 2.0 license.
Green laser sights are now available; they are more easily seen than an equivalent-power red laser. Infrared laser sights are made for use with night vision goggles. The beam cannot be seen by the naked eye, so a bad guy does not even know he is being targeted.
Wills concludes by saying “like any other tool there is a right way and a wrong way to use” lasers.
A person wearing NVGs is normally not at risk of retinal injuries, since direct laser light falls on the image intensifier device and not the eyes. (Depending on the NVG mounting style, it may be possible for direct laser light to enter from the side or from parts of the vision not covered by the NVG optics.) However, a serious concern is with laser light causing “blooming” of the night vision enhanced image, or even damaging the NVG sensor. To help prevent this, Night Flight Concepts developed “Laser Armor” Light Interference Filters.
Company consultant Dr. Dudley Crosson says the screw-in filters “allow the goggles to function normally by reducing the blooming effect significantly.” A Laser Armor product sheet says the filters reduce blue (445-450 nm) intensity by 97%, and reduce green (532 nm) intensity by 99.5%.
From Aviation Today and a Night Flight Concepts press release
Hickton noted that the new law makes it easier to prosecute since malicious intent is no longer required. Instead, it must be proven that the defendant “knowingly” targeted an aircraft or its flight path with a laser pointer. The new law’s penalty is up to $250,000 fine and/or prison for up to five years.
A map from the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office shows the location of 51 laser events between September 2009 and October 2011. Arrests were made in only two of these cases: “Hickton and other officials concede it can be difficult to pinpoint culprits.”
From 90.5 FM Essential Public Radio and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. A press release from Hickton’s office is below (click the Read More link). Edited Feb. 28 2012 at 3:15 PM EST to correct a statement from 90.5 FM.
The newspaper report did not have specifics about the lasers’ numbers, power, color, etc.
From Emirat Alyoum. English-language reports from Emirates 24/7 and Bikya Masr.
DragonMart in Dubai claims to be “the largest trading centre for Chinese products outside mainland China,” with almost 4,000 shops. A Gulf News reporter found shops selling lasers under-the-counter for AED 40 to AED 80 ($11-$22). An internet search turned up lasers for sale in Dubai and Abu Dhabi around AED 500 ($136) that were described with terms such as “draw a line in the sky,” “extremely bright green,” and could cause “permanent eye damage”.
The article noted that United Arab Emirates officials have said that illegal use of lasers could lead to fines and jail time.
From GulfNews.com and DragonMart. We have found two articles about youths in Abu Dhabi being arrested after aiming lasers at a helicopter, in June 2010 and in October 2007. Video of the June 2010 incident, uploaded by the Abu Dhabi Police, is available on YouTube (click the photo to go to the YouTube page).
Violation can result in a fine and/or imprisonment up to five years. The bill does provide a few exemptions for research and development, flight testing, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. The only exemption for ordinary citizens is when “using a laser emergency signaling device to send an emergency distress signal.”
The laser pointer misuse prohibition becomes part of the United States Code; specifically, Title 18, Chapter 2, new section 39A: “Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft”. The text of the new law is here.
From AVStop News
Range diagram from a PDF product brochure for the GLARE Enforcer laser dazzler
While the nominal ocular hazard zone (NOHD) at full power is 130 feet, the device includes a safe, low-power laser that measures the distance to a person or reflective object, and lowers the light level so it is safe at the detected distance. Military dazzlers do not have such a feature, relying instead on training soldiers not to aim the laser at persons closer than the hazard distance.
Laser journalist Jeff Hecht reported in a February 13 2012 article that there have been “some injuries” from military dazzlers, most of them minor. He also noted that ordinary citizens armed with laser pointers could be more of a hazard than police or military dazzlers. For example, lasers were used against police in Greece during riots in June 2011.
From New Scientist. The B.E. Meyers Electro-Optics GLARE Enforcer product page is here.
From the Croydon Guardian
This is important because the FAA Laser Incident Database sometimes listed multiple reports from aircraft on a single spreadsheet row, if these were all in the same location at about the same time. Thus, it might appear that there was one “incident” which was reported by multiple aircraft. (This is how LaserPointerSafety.com interpreted an “incident” prior to February 15 2012.) However, FAA is now saying this was not their intent. While FAA may suspect that a single perpetrator was involved, they cannot be certain and thus to FAA this would be multiple incidents.
For example, in 2011, there were 12 spreadsheet rows that listed two or more aircraft as seeing the same laser. One row listed 5 aircraft, one row listed 3 aircraft, and ten rows listed 2 aircraft. Thus, there were 28-12 or 16 additional incidents according to FAA’s clarified definition.
The statistical analysis at LaserPointerSafety.com here and here reflects how FAA counts incidents.
Co-sponsor Sam Arora said “We need this law … we’re talking about potential death.” The Maryland State Police testified in support of the bill at a February 7 2012 hearing that “the results [of a laser incident] could be deadly.” A WJZ TV news report said “Blinding a pilot at night is a good way to kill people.”
The bill only applies to laser pointers, defined under Maryland law (Title 3, Subtitle 8, Section 3-806) as any device that emits visible laser light. There are exemptions for lasers used for flight testing for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
The bill was introduced January 23 2012, and had its first reading on February 7. A companion Maryland Senate bill is expected to be introduced soon.
From Essex-Middle River Patch, CBS Baltimore WJZ, and the Maryland legislative information website. The full text of the bill is here; the Maryland definition of laser pointer is here.
Editorial note from LaserPointerSafety.com: A Maryland state police paramedic gave an erroneous demonstration to reporters purporting to show how a laser can be a hazard to aircraft. In a hangar, he aimed a red laser pointer at a helicopter windscreen only a few yards away. The resulting (grossly inaccurate) video shows a tiny red dot on the windscreen and in the aircraft. This is NOT what happens in a laser-aircraft incident. Instead, the light would be many inches across, even at low, helicopter-hovering altitudes of many hundreds of feet. The windscreen would further spread the light so that there would be a wide area of glare. In other words, the hazard is not a pinpoint that can go into one’s pupil, but a large “blob” of light that can cause temporary flashblindness, glare or distraction. This is an example of how laser hazards close up (within a few feet or yards) are very different from laser hazards to aircraft hundreds or thousands of feet away.
There are currently no restrictions on the public’s ownership of lasers in New Zealand.
NZALPA’s technical director Stu Julian told TV ONE that if the laser incidents continue, they could cause a crash due to distracting a pilot when they have minimal reaction time.
According to the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, there were 100 laser pointer incidents in 2011, with 40 of those at the Auckland airport. A spokesperson for the Eagle police helicopter said the crew had lasers pointed at them “all the time. It happens fairly often and it’s a real risk to the crew.”
From MSN NZ, TVNZ, Scoop NZ, and the New Zealand Herald. The text of a Feb. 7 2012 press release from NZALPA is below (after the “Read More” link). Thanks to Mark Wardle of NZALPA for bringing this to our attention. The New Zealand Herald link has a list of selected New Zealand laser incidents. To find all aviation incidents from New Zealand reported at LaserPointerSafety.com, click here.
[NOTE: The amounts above represent about $2,400 per pair of laser protection spectacles. More information about anti-laser glasses for pilots, including non-military versions protecting against one or two visible wavelengths for roughly $100-200, is here.]
From a Teledyne Technologies press release
Note: The FAA reports the 2011 total as 3,592. This is because the last entry in the FAA’s laser incident spreadsheet is on line 3,592. However, the spreadsheet headings are on line 1, so the actual number of 2011 incidents is 3,591 -- the number we use below.
What is an FAA-reported “laser incident”?: This is defined as an aircraft pilot seeing one or more laser beams during flight. A mid-2011 study by Rockwell Laser Industries of 6,903 incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration found that in 27% of incidents, beams entered the cockpit (passed through the windscreen). For example, in 2011, there were 3,591 incidents of which approximately 970 (27%) involved beams in the cockpit.
PowerPoint version available: A set of slides, presented to the SAE G10 aviation safety committee on Jan. 31, 2012, is available on the Files and Downloads page.
Yearly ComparisonHere are the number of incidents reported to FAA in recent years:
- 2011: 3,591 incidents (9.8 per night)
- 2010: 2,836 incidents (7.7 per night)
- 2009: 1,527 incidents (4.2 per night)
- 2008: 949 incidents (2.6 per night)
- 2007: 639 incidents (1.8 per night)
- 2006: 384 incidents (1.1 per night)
- 2005: 283 incidents (0.78 per night)
- 2004: 46 incidents (0.13 per night) involving an unknown number of aircraft Note: FAA mandated that pilots report incidents using Advisory Circular 70-2, beginning January 19 2005. Before this date, pilot reporting was voluntary.
This is a total of approximately 10,201 incidents reported to FAA, from 2004 through the end of 2011.
Adverse EffectsIn 55 of the 3,591 laser/aircraft incidents (1.5%), a pilot or aircraft occupant reported a temporary adverse visual effect such as flashblindness, afterimage, blurry vision, eye irritation and/or headache. None of these effects was classified as a recordable injury by FAA medical experts.
In these 55 incidents…
- … there were 31 reports of pain or discomfort in the eyes or elsewhere (e.g., headache).
- … there were 31 reports of vision impairment such as afterimages (10) and blurry vision (7).
- … seven persons sought medical treatment after the laser exposure.
- … one person was grounded temporarily.
- … three flights were affected: in two cases, the pilot turned control over to the co-pilot; in one case the pilot felt he had to land immediately.
Rate of increase, by yearWhile laser incidents continue to increase, during 2011 the rate of increase slowed significantly.
The rate of increase dropped 59% in 2011 (from 86.4% to 27%). If there is another 59% drop in 2012, (dashed line), then there would be a decrease in laser incidents for the first time, from 3,591 incidents in 2011 to 2,836 incidents projected for 2012.
“There are lasers used to hit satellites, it’s called dazzling, and it’s a show of force. There are a handful of countries that can do it. China dazzles U.S. and French satellites in low earth orbit not often, but regularly. What if a laser hits them, maybe lingers too long? A show of force can actually damage the satellite, knocks out some sensitive equipment. If that happens, and it’s from China, is that an act of war? What do you do? Political leaders have to be briefed on this. They have to make an effort to avoid escalation.”
From an interview in the Santa Barbara Independent conducted by Kevin Zambrano