A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
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.
LERapp was developed a few years ago by Dr. Craig Williamson of the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The app uses the smartphone camera; when a laser or bright light event is detected, the app makes a digital record. This includes a picture of the event, the GPS location of the phone, the user’s heading, the date and time, and laser parameters such as the beam color and estimated irradiance. A March 2013 paper, presented by Dr. Williamson at the International Laser Safety Conference, describes the app in more detail.
Screenshot from the 2013 version of the Laser Event Recorder app
As far as LaserPointerSafety.com can determine, the app was never made publicly available such as being put on an app store.
To commercialize LERapp, in December 2016 it was licensed to Profound Technologies, Inc. of Warner Robins, Georgia, who will be doing further development and marketing in major regions such as the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Profound’s president Randall Fitzgerald said that there are two planned versions.
One version will be a free or low-cost basic app that has the current features of LERapp. Profound will also be developing a central database where laser incident reports will be automatically filed, which then can be pushed out to other users of LERapp such as nearby pilots. These notifications would be available in a higher-cost version, or perhaps the notification feature would be a “freemium” add-on to the basic app.
The app will not directly be able to locate the laser’s location — the only geographic information stored is the GPS location and heading of the smartphone at the time of the incident. However, having a photo of the laser illumination may allow law enforcement to locate landmarks or street patterns. Also, Profound is considering future versions which could triangulate a ground location or area based on multiple illumination events reported to the database within a short timespan.
LERapp currently runs on Apple’s iOS operating system for iPhones. There is as yet no public release schedule for the basic or database versions. At the time of Apple App Store release, Profound also intends to have an Android-compatible version available.
From a Profound Technologies press release dated December 4 2016 and a December 8 telephone interview with Randall Fitzgerald. LaserPointerSafety.com previously ran a story about the Dstl version of the LERapp in March 2013.
FDA’s primary concern is green lasers’ interference with the vision of vehicle operators including pilots. Green lasers are involved in over 90% of incidents where pilots reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they saw or were illuminated by laser light during a flight.
The agency is also worried about blue lasers which can have greater visibility to night-adapted eyes than red lasers of equivalent power.
Thus FDA is applying the “defective” label — giving them added authority over potentially injurious products — because of what they consider to be a well-known, established public safety hazard to operators of vehicles, aircraft and watercraft.
What FDA is trying to accomplish
FDA has two main goals:
1) “Turn back the clock” to the 1990s and early 2000s when almost all laser pointers were red. According to the agency, red light has the least interference with pilot vision, compared to equivalent-power green beams which can appear up to 28 times brighter. During this period there were dozens or low hundreds of reported laser/aviation incidents per year, compared with 7,703 incidents in 2015.
2) Make it much easier for customs and law enforcement to identify illegal laser pointers simply by their color. Red and orange-red laser pointers would be permitted; all others would be prohibited for general sales.
In addition, FDA sought to address requests from legislators including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). After high-profile incidents, lawmakers have written to FDA, asking for a ban on green pointers due to their vision-blocking abilities being a risk to pilots and passengers.
Who would be affected
FDA’s proposed color-based prohibition would only affect the manufacture, importation and sales of laser pointer products introduced into commerce. Although pointers fall under the FDA’s “surveying, leveling and alignment” (SLA) control, only pointers as defined by FDA would be restricted to red. Standard SLA equipment would not be affected — they could use any color beam.
Individuals such as hobbyists who manufacture their own laser products for their personal use would be free from FDA laser product regulations. This is because such individuals would not be considered manufacturers by FDA.
Since federal law cannot control individual use or misuse, states and localities could impose their own regulations. (A few states and localities already have their own restrictions on use and/or possession; these are not currently based on the color of the laser.) One benefit of FDA’s proposal is that any new state and local laws could “piggyback” on FDA’s color-based restrictions. That would make it easier for local law enforcement to use color to easily identify whether a person possessed a prohibited or permitted laser.
FDA’s proposal and rationale was stated in draft amendments presented October 25 to an FDA advisory panel known as “TEPRSSC”.
Click to read more...
Northern Ireland: "Laser Lunacy" drama visits schools to warn students not to aim lasers at aircraft
According to an October 19 2016 story in the Irish News, the performance depicts an aircraft crew member being blinded, which leads to a crash that injures 17 people. The subsequent investigation highlights how a criminal conviction can ruin a young person’s life.
After the performance there is a question-and-answer session to reinforce the message.
BIA’s Jaclyn Coulter told the newspaper “We have a very serious message to get across to young people and we thought that the most effective way of doing that was through drama…. [W]e are delighted with the response we have had both from schools and pupils. We want this practice to be stamped out. It is not fun. It is not a game.”
There were 35 aircraft illumination incidents last year, and 16 thus far in 2016.
From the Irish News
UK: Statistics on police helicopter laser attacks; one has been struck 100 times "over the last year"
Assuming “over the past year” means “in the last 12 months”, that would be an average of about two laser illuminations per week.
A separate article from BBC News states that in 2015 there were 91 reported laser illuminations of National Police Air Service aircraft. The largest number was 20 attacks against NPAS helicopters taking off from its Carr Gate headquarters near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.”
Reasons for the apparent discrepancy in numbers are not clear. It may be that South Yorkshire is not a member of the NPAS, which provides centralized air support to local police forces.
The BBC News chart below shows the 2015 NPAS laser attacks:
The NPAS is testing laser protective eyewear, as a means to help protect flight crews.
From The Star and BBC News. Interestingly, a September 14 search of the South Yorkshire Police website, to find more information about these incidents and police concern regarding lasers, did not find any results when searching for the term “laser.”
To help defend drones against laser light, a California company has developed a defensive laser to be mounted on the drone. When it detects a laser attack, it first analyzes the incoming beam’s power, wavelength, pulse frequency and source. It then uses its own laser to counter the incoming beam.
The exact method is secret. New Scientist speculates “…it may involve fooling the control system into thinking it is hitting its target despite the laser actually pointing a few metres to the side. A direct hit would have produced a big burst of reflected light, so a pulse sent back by an anti-laser laser could make it look like the original laser was on target.”
The company is Adsys Controls of Irvine, California; the anti-laser laser system is called Helios. According to the company, “Helios is a low SWaP [Space, Weight and Power], completely passive Counter Directed Energy Weapon system capable of nullifying the enemy’s DEW [Directed Energy Weapon]. Consisting of a small UAV-mounted sensor package, Helios provides full analysis of the incoming DEW beam including localization and intensity. With this information it passively jams the enemy, protecting the vehicle and the payload.”
From Popular Science and New Scientist
BALPA noted that there were 1,439 reports of laser attacks in 2015, and that 55% of pilots experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months. A spokesperson said BALPA “has been campaigning for a long time for high-powered lasers to be treated as what they are — offensive weapons.”
The association was also concerned with the threat of incidents involving drones.
A motion to ask for improved regulations passed at the meeting.
From a BALPA press release
For details, see this LaserPointerSafety.com article in the non-aviation incident section of our news coverage. We are cross-referencing the article in this section as well, for persons who are looking for articles about scientific studies of laser eye injuries.
From mid-July 2016 to late August 2016, more than 570 persons have gone to the main government hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir for treatment of eyes that have been damaged by “birdshot” (lead pellets) fired from shotguns into crowds by Indian security forces trying to break up protests and crowds.
An August 28 2016 New York Times article describes some of the lead pellet-caused eye injuries:
“The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink.”
“[A] patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old…. Slowly, as residents stood around him in hushed silence, the surgeon flattened out the boy’s retina, as thin and delicate as a lace doily, and used a laser to reattach it to the back of his eye.
“In most cases, it became clear, the pellets had burst into through the cornea and out through the retina, leaving little hope of fully restoring vision…. ‘Once it goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside,’ Dr. Qureshi said. ‘It’s physics. This is a high-velocity body. It releases a high amount of energy inside. The lens, the iris, the retina get matted up.’”
The author, Ellen Barry, notes that “….most countries do not use them on unarmed civilians, as the pellets spray widely and cannot be aimed…. This year, the use of pellets on Kashmiri protesters increased sharply, with the police firing more than 3,000 canisters, or upward of 1.2 million pellets, in the first 32 days of the protests, the Central Reserve Police Force has said.”
From the New York Times
In 2014 the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act made it illegal to aim laser pens at aircraft. According to the Irish Examiner, “Since the legislation was introduced, there has been a significant decrease in the number of laser incidents reported by Irish pilots in Irish airspace to Irish Air Traffic Control.”
As of August 26 2016, there were 31 reports of lasers deliberately pointed at aircraft in Irish airspace. If the remainder of 2016 continues at that rate, there would be about 47 laser incident reports for the entire year.
Except for mentioning the 2014 legislation, the news report did not indicate any other reason for the decline.
From the Irish Examiner
According to Haines, laser attacks have permanently damaged pilots’ vision, and it is conceivable that they could cause an aircraft crash. In 2015 there were 1,439 laser incidents reported to CAA.
Haines said there is no legitimate reason for a person to have a high-powered laser pen in public. Press reports did not indicate Haines’ definition of “high-powered”. (In the U.K., lasers used as pointers are limited to 1 milliwatt [the U.S. limit is 5 mW], so it is possible that “high-powered” would mean any handheld laser above 1 mW.)
Haines asked “Why does Joe Bloggs walking down the street need a laser that can pop a balloon at 50 miles, that can cause permanent damage to a pilot?”
The CAA chief wants new, restrictive legislation because at present, it is difficult to find laser perpetrators and to prove they had intent to endanger aviation, under the Air Navigation Order 2009.
A U.K. government spokesperson said "We take this issue very seriously and we continue to work with other Government departments, the CAA and industry to determine how best to control the sale, use and possession of laser pens. We are looking to make changes as soon as possible."
From the Daily Mail, BBC, the Mirror, and other news sources. For commentary about Haines’ statements, click the “Read More…” link below.
Click to read more...
Australia: Study shows inexpensive green laser pointers are mislabled and significantly over-powered
The researchers purchased eight laser pointers from sources including electronics stores and online stores. They bought four lasers with green beams and four with red beams. The cost of each laser was less than AUD $30 (USD $23).
All of the lasers were advertised to have a maximum output power of either less than 1 mW or less than 5 mW. The green laser pointers’ actual output power measured from 51 to 127 milliwatts. Dr. Fox said “At that upper level, the beam would cause catastrophic retinal damage.”
Apparently much of the green lasers’ power was in the infrared. These types of lasers work by generating non-visible infrared light which is then converted by a crystal into visible green light. A filter is normally used to block the infrared light, and only let the green light through. However, “[t]he research team found that imported laser pointers were poorly made, with manufacturers tempted to skip installing infrared-blocking filters to hold down costs.” The researchers did not measure how much of each lasers’ output was in the visible, and how much was in the infrared.
The 127 milliwatt green laser was labeled as a Class 2 device, with maximum output power of 1 mW. In a previous study from the U.S. NIST, the highest power output they measured was 66.5 mW from a green laser labeled as having a maximum output power of 5 mW.
Three of the four red laser pointers were found to be within the legal limit of 1 milliwatt. The fourth red pointer was about 8.5 milliwatts. The researchers felt that the red lasers’ spots were less focused than green lasers, meaning there was less risk of retinal damage. Also, red lasers use diodes. The maximum power output of these diodes is limited; excessive current will destroy the diode’s lasing capacity instead of providing a more powerful beam.
The researchers noted that “Our experiment raised two very pertinent concerns – first, why were class 3B lasers so easily purchased via the internet without licensing? This suggests that there are many loopholes in the importation of these products and more stringent processes need to be reinforced. Secondly, why did green lasers labeled as Class 2 reach up to a power output of 127mW, effectively attaining a class 3B classification? It is very likely that there is a significant infrared component. This drastic degree of non-compliance suggests that there needs to be more rigorous testing and quality control of these commercially available lasers – merely imposing a power limit of less than 1mW is insufficient.”
The researchers concluded by stating that “Authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and medical authorities such as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) ought to advocate more strongly for stringent testing, quality control and licensing of green DPSS lasers.”
From an RMIT press release, “Over-the-counter laser pointers a threat to eyesight” and an advance copy of a paper, “Green lasers are beyond power limits mandated by safety standards,” which will be published in the Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE Engineers in Medicine and Biology Conference, online at the IEEE Xplore website. Thanks to Dr. Kate Fox for the paper.
The laser portion of the 21-page document is four paragraphs long. The analysis appears to be sourced primarily from news accounts and public documents.
The fourth paragraph, which concludes the laser discussion, states: “Although no real damage has yet been caused by the laser threat against airplanes, the possibility cannot be ignored that terrorist organization will use laser beams against pilots in order to carry out a terror attack. This issue becomes even more significant in light of the fact that there are particularly powerful laser devices that can be found in the possession of terrorist organizations.”
Other potential aviation threats described in the document include drones, anti-aircraft missiles, recruiting disaffected airport employees, and cyber-terrorism.
The study was published by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Herzliya, Israel, a non-profit organization that calls itself “one of the leading academic institutes for counter-terrorism in the world.”
From Trends in Aviation Terrorism (PDF document)
The group’s research found that green lasers, even at low power levels, scare geese at night when they are roosting in fields, eating the green shoots of crops such as wheat and barley. They can do “significant damage,” Rashleigh said.
There is a solution during the daytime involving noise from pyrotechnics, but this can’t be used at night in a residential area.
For nighttime geese deterrence, the students looked at other options and concluded that using lasers was the best way to solve the problem. They developed a device placed about 12-15 feet off the ground, installed in the center of the field. It moves the laser across an area, throughout the night. So far, it appears to be “fairly effective.” Response has been “quite positive” from other farmers.
Rashleigh told CBC News that “safety is a huge concern.” The laser only shines where it is intended, in the field. The beam is less powerful than most handheld laser pointers; a person would have to stare into the beams for “about 8 seconds” to have any risk of damage. To protect aircraft, the device can detect if it is being pointed above the horizon, and can shut itself off.
From CBC News, via Forbes
On the education side, volunteers will visit schools and airports to provide information about why people should not aim lasers at aircraft.
On the legislative side, the group wants to create a National Laser Registration List for Class 4 lasers (those over 500 milliwatts of power), with federal law mandating registration.
PALS was founded in March 2016 by pilot Craig Pieper, who was illuminated by green laser light in December 2015 while on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. The organization’s website is at pilotsagainstlaserstrikes.org.
From Aero Crew News August 2016, pp. 26-27 and Metropolitan Airport News, August 2016, p. 10.
There was no indication as to any intended use for the devices.
According to a July 28 2016 report, Adeel Ul-Haq, 21, received a five-year sentence for “helping in the preparation of an act of terrorism” and a one-year sentence for “funding terrorism.”
Ul-Haq raised approximately £4,200 (USD $5560) via Twitter donations. Some of the money purchased the laser and night-vision equipment.
The money was confiscated, and was redistributed by the Charity Commission to two registered aid charities.
The US Army Contracting Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Natick Contracting Division (NCD) on behalf of the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) intends to issue a solicitation under Authority of FAR Part 15 for Research and Development (R&D) efforts to deliver prototype systems capable of meeting Next Generation Eye Protection (NGEP) requirements. Eyewear must be capable of exceeding military ballistic fragmentation protection requirements for eye protection as currently outlined in MIL-PRF-32432, meet optical quality requirements, provide configuration(s) with laser eye protection, accommodate varying light conditions, and be compatible with the Universal Prescription Lens Carrier (UPLC) to accommodate Marines requiring vision correction. Since follow-on production is envisioned, the ability to produce protective eyewear in production quantities is also a key consideration.
The Government is anticipating awarding 1 or more firm fixed price (FFP) contracts with a period of performance of 12 months for the required services. The Government reserves the right to award one or no contracts as a result of the solicitation.
From the pre-solicitation notice at FedBizOpps.gov. The Solicitation Number is W911QY-16-R-0043.
“Air Force aircrew members require an ALEP system for day and night applications that balance requirements for laser eye protection, mission/aircraft compatibility, and flight safety. The ALEP Block 2 system provides aircrew members with enhanced protection against hazard and threat laser devices in combat and training situations while minimizing visual acuity degradation. The ALEP Block 2 system also provides sufficient protection to prevent permanent eye damage and temporary effects (glare, flash blindness, etc.) from laser weapons/devices. The Block 2 system is compatible with current aircrew flight equipment, cockpit/cabin displays, exterior aircraft lights, and airfield lights, night vision devices, helmet mounted displays, and exterior scenery.”
The supplier is Teledyne Scientific & Imaging. The contract amount is $30.1 million, meaning the cost amortized over each spectacle is $2,550. The sole source contract stated “Teledyne is the only firm capable of providing the supplies without the USAF experiencing substantial duplication of cost that could not be expected to be recovered through competition and unacceptable delays in fulfilling its requirements.”
From GovTribe and airforce-technology.com. The federal solicitation number for this contract is FA8606-15-C-6370.
The “Star Wars Battle Quads” can move at speeds of 40-50 mph, and have clear propellers on the bottom to help maintain the illusion of a Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, TIE fighter or speeder bike flying on its own.
According to the manufacturer, Propel, up to 24 drones can have a laser battle simultaneously. A publicity photo shows laser beams clearly visible in a smoky environment:
Below is a freeze-frame from a Propel video that shows the drones (upper left corner) flying in a public demonstration. The circles show where the laser beams are shooting onto an audience.
According to the Verge, “When a ship is hit by a laser from an opposing ship, its paired controller … shakes in the pilot’s hands. After three direct hits, the drone will slowly spiral to the ground the game is over. Although the prototypes weren’t ready for one of these battles when we saw them, the lasers alone were pretty striking.”
The caption of this photo from the Verge states that the lasers are “Around the strength of a laser pointer.” Empire vehicles have green lasers, Rebellion vehicles have red.
US: FAA bill mandates quarterly reporting of laser incidents and prosecutions; increases civil penalties
- the number of laser pointer incidents reported to FAA
- the number of civil and criminal enforcement actions
- the resolution of any incidents that did not result in a civil or criminal action
- any actions taken to help deter laser pointer incidents
In addition, the maximum civil penalty that FAA can impose was raised to $25,000. It was formerly $11,000.
U.S. Government Printing Office. The full text of the laser pointer provisions of the Act is below (click the Read More… link).
Click to read more...
The prohibition lasts from July 18 through July 22. The list of items was first published by the city of Cleveland as part of regulations issued May 25 2016.
In the list, some items have specific descriptions, such as a restriction on “Lumber larger than 2” in width and 1⁄4” thick, including supports for signs” or “Umbrellas with metal tips.” For lasers, the list simply bans “Lasers;” there is no additional description such as allowing lasers under a certain size or power output.
The general public can possess a banned item if it is used in a workplace or at a home within the restricted zone, and if the item is used within the business or home.
The public is allowed to have guns in the event zone due to an Ohio state law allowing open carry by licensed gun owners. The event zone covers most of downtown Cleveland.
A much smaller security zone inside the convention arena, under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service, has banned guns.
From Wired and Q13 Fox. The city of Cleveland regulations are here. Click the “Read More…” link for a map of the event zone and the complete list of 72 banned items.
Click to read more...
In three airports in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Pleiku, there were six incidents where lasers were aimed at aircraft between May 28 and June 14 2016. The perpetrators remain unknown as of July 6 2016.
Anthony started by harvesting lasers used in DLP video projectors, such as the Casio “LampFree” series:
He purchased four broken projectors, each with an array of blue laser diodes totaling 50 watts, to get a grand total of 200 watts of laser output. He then used knife-edge optical components to help superimpose all the laser beams.
When energized, the beam is immense and powerful:
The highest (most hazardous) laser classification is Class 4, which starts at 500 milliwatts (0.5 watts). Such lasers can cause instant eye injury, skin burns and can burn materials. Anthony’s 200 watt laser is 400 times more powerful than the 0.5 watt limit where Class 4 begins.
In the video, Anthony says “this feels like I’m holding a bolt of lightning in my hands. This is definitely my new favorite toy.”
Adding a magnifying glass to the end focuses the beam onto a spot that can almost instantly burn a block of wood:
When operating the laser, Anthony wears a welder’s mask with laser goggles fitted. This prevents potential retinal burns caused by looking at the concentrated laser light. Below he is shown with the laser and mask.
At the end of the video, he says “I'm glad to have finally finished this beast because that means I can start working on some of my other projects, and in the coming months I have a lot of crazy stuff planned including impulse lasers that peak in the megawatts as well as explosively pumped lasers, so I'm looking forward to that….Until the next time, stay safe and happy lasing!”
Drake Anthony is a 23-year old senior at Southern Illinois University, who has been accepted into the University of Rochester PhD program. In a Feb. 2016 newspaper profile entitled “SIU student turns passion for lasers into potential career”, the author notes that “What really excites Anthony is the science behind the beam.” She quotes him as saying “From a theory perspective, it’s beautiful. It uses physics, it uses quantum physics, chemistry, good things of math, engineering. It’s just this conglomeration of all the best things that humans have come up with.”
From the YouTube video “My Homebuilt 200W LASER BAZOOKA!!!!!”, posted June 28 2016
The chart below, showing FAA laser illumination reports for the past nine years, demonstrates how the number of reports increased and even more dramatically decreased (yellow area):
Click for larger image
A closer look at the past two years shows this more clearly:
Click for larger image
A possible cause of the increase is that on July 16 there was widespread nationwide publicity about 11 flights that were illuminated on July 15 in and around New Jersey.
However, this event is not a full explanation. While the publicity may have triggered a “copycat” effect, incidents had been increasing at least two weeks prior to July 16.
LaserPointerSafety.com is not aware of any other external events such as new laser pointer products, changes in laws, etc. that could also account for this increase. And, we have no explanation for the dramatic fall-off starting December 23. We have reached out to FAA to find out if there were any changes in pilot reporting requirements or in data gathering procedures.
Knowing reasons for the increase — and especially for the sudden decrease — could provide clues in the effort to reduce laser pointer incidents in the U.S.
LaserPointerSafety.com estimates there will be over 8,500 laser incidents reported for 2016. This is based on comparing the number of illuminations Jan 1 - May 28 2016, with the average of the same period in the past four years.
The campaign began with a press conference where Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport and Tony Cusimano, Superintendent of York Regional Police spoke about the hazards.
Garneau said, "Pointing a laser at an aircraft is not only a reckless act that puts people at unnecessary risk, it’s simply not a bright idea. As Minister of Transport, I take this type of behaviour seriously because Canadians and their families deserve to feel safe while flying. We want people to know there are serious consequences, including $100,000 in fines and up to five years in prison. Transport Canada and law enforcement across the country are working together to ensure offenders face the fullest force of the law.”
Transport Canada has set up a website at www.tc.gc.ca/NotABrightIdea. It includes a catchy animated video, “Dumb Ways to Blind” aimed at millennials, plus three other more conventional videos on the topic.
According to the website, “[i]n 2015, there were almost 600 reported incidents.” This was an increase over the 502 incidents reported in 2014.
Transport Canada urges those interested to use the hashtag #NotABrightIdea. On Twitter, since January 1 2016 there have been about 40 posts with this hashtag; 33 of them about lasers and 7 about other topics that are “not a bright idea.”
From a news release issued by Transport Canada
Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense is permitted to self-certify their laser equipment and usage. The DoD’s Army, Air Force and Navy agencies do not need FDA approval of their helicopter-based laser illuminators. However, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which does not have a self-certification waiver. The Coast Guard must currently apply for FDA approval.
On April 14 2016, Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter to FDA, asking that the Coast Guard be permitted to self-certify their laser systems. Hunter called FDA’s policy “onerous and burdensome”.
One issue may be that the helicopter-based video system already has low-light and infrared capabilities. Although the laser illumination can further enhance the image, it may not be considered a necessity for operations.
From Seapower magazine
In a social media post around late March 2016, Kaye posted photos of a dinosaur’s eye that is only visible with his technique.
A science story notes that Kaye is “maybe the only person on Earth not named Sam Neill who can say he’s looked into the eyes of a pterosaur.”
In previous studies he used green (532 nm), blue (457 nm) and violet (407 nm) laser modules with powers from 150 to 500 milliwatts. This provides much brighter illumination of the subject. For example, a standard 20 watt ultraviolet fluorescent lamp has an irradiance (power over a given area) of 510 milliwatts per square centimeter. A 500 milliwatt (1/2 watt) laser, by comparison, provides an irradiance of around 4000 to 8000 milliwatts per square centimeter.
Kaye with his laser apparatus
The story “What Did Dinosaurs Look Like? Tom Kaye Finds Answers, Feathers With Lasers” appeared online at Inverse.com on April 19 2016. Inverse also featured a previous story, “Lasers Can Tell Us More About Fossils Than Before” on October 8 2015. A May 27 2015 paper by Kaye and associates, written for the online journal PLOS ONE, “Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence in Paleontology”, is here.
But in addition to this declaration, the authors also provided a succinct summary of the current state of consumer laser pointer misuse, and how ophthalmologists should proceed when studying a patient’s laser exposure.
Experts John Marshall, John O’Hagan and John Tyrer began by noting that low-powered Class 2 (less than 1 milliwatt) and Class 3R (1-5 mW) lasers “are not an eye hazard, and even if used inappropriately will not cause permanent eye damage.”
However, consumer laser devices with Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (above 500 mW) powers have begun to cause injuries. “….[C]lass 4 devices are capable of causing irreversible retinal damage if directed into the eye over short ranges, up to several metres. Such devices have resulted in foveal injuries in children with current estimates of 150 cases in the UK. The [UK] media has given significant coverage to this growing problem.”
Ophthalmologists were advised that in cases of close up exposure, there may potentially be permanent damage. A detailed examination would be warranted, although there is no treatment to reverse permanent damage.
The hazards from this short range misuse differ from the hazards of aiming a laser towards pilots. Because the laser-to-aircraft distance is typically “hundreds to thousands of metres”, and because of scattering from the windscreen, eye injuries are nonexistent: “Fortunately, these exposures are at irradiances that are incapable of producing irreversible retinal damage even at distances of 100 m.”
They said that only one case of alleged retinal damage has been reported in pilots. [LPS.com note: this is for publicly available reports involving civilian pilots.] The experts concluded the case is suspect for a number of reasons; they do not believe laser targeting caused the alleged injury.
Marshall, O’Hagan and Tyrer turned from injuries to the hazards of distracting pilots with bright laser lights: “Obviously, if such a distraction occurs at a critical time such as during landing then the result could be devastating.”
For ophthalmologists examining pilots, if there are no permanent abnormalities on an Amsler grid test, the physician should not do any detailed eye exam, as this “would only serve to compromise the pilot's vision for a longer period.” The authors noted that pilots may delay seeing an expert for “many hours or a day or so during which there may be a growing psychological element.”
In an interview with CNN, Marshall said the findings on pilot hazards are based on previous laser safety research as well as a new study done with field experiments at a military base over about three years.
In the BJO editorial, the three experts agreed that current laser safety standards and guidelines are based on valid experiments and science. The standards do not need to be revised, “…but clearly further attempts must be made to educate the public.”
The editorial concluded “The European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation bodies to produce a standard specifically for consumer laser products. This should allow enforcing authorities to remove unsafe products from the market. However, compliance by manufacturers will remain an issue, as will direct imports by the public purchasing unsafe laser products over the internet.”
From the British Journal of Ophthalmology editorial “Eye hazards of laser ‘pointers’ in perspective” by John Marshall, John O’Hagan, and John Tyrer, available in HTML text and as a PDF document. Click on the blue “Read More…” link below for an April 19 2016 press release from the BJO summarizing the paper’s findings relative to pilot hazards.
Click to read more...
Compare this with the number of illuminations in the United States over the same period:
Australia’s data roughly tracks the U.S. data during the period 2007-2012. Here are the two charts above, superimposed, with the Australia numbers multiplied six times. The slope of the lines are similar for the first six years.
Data from Airservices Australia, a corporation owned by the Australian Government whose services include air traffic control and aeronautical data. The information was provided in response to a LaserPointerSafety.com media inquiry. Thanks to Amanda Palmer for her assistance with the request.
Here is the CADORS data:
Compare this with the number of illuminations in the United States over the same period:
Canada’s data roughly tracks the U.S. data. Here are the two charts above, superimposed, with the CADORS numbers multiplied 11.7 times. The slope of the lines are similar for all but 2013/2014, and the endpoints are remarkably close.
From an analysis by Andrew Duffy in the Ottawa Citizen. Note that a few days earlier, CBC News stated that there were 590 laser/aircraft incidents in 2015. There is no indication as to reasons for the discrepancy.
Dr. John O’Hagan said that many of the handheld laser pens and pointers being sold on eBay “are very clearly not one milliwatt.” According to eBay guidelines, such lasers above 1 mW are not supposed to be listed. O’Hagan noted that the pens may be “misleadingly …. designed to look like less powerful lasers, and are priced at only around £5 [USD $7], so people may not even be aware of what they are buying.”
From the Sun; scroll down to the “Lasers” section. See also a similar warning from a UK laser pointer seller.
Loudon estimates that eBay sales “are in the thousands” each day. According to the statement, “Currently there are over 2000 laser pens for sale on eBay UK. It appears 90% of the listings are for products that are clearly over 1mW and often with sales histories of thousands in a single listing. Multiply that and it becomes really obvious where all these overpowered lasers are coming from that idiots are abusing.”
He calls for eBay to begin “monitoring and delisting all these crazy hyped up laser listings”.
From a statement emailed to LaserPointerSafety.com on February 17 2016. The complete statement is reprinted below; click the “Read More…” link. And click here for other eBay-related stories, including one a day later where a UK public safety official called on eBay to “crack down” on laser sales.
Click to read more...
The meeting is scheduled to occur during the week of February 22-26. A department spokesperson said on February 16 that it was too early to discuss any potential changes to laws.
From the Telegraph
The head of the Air Canada Pilots Association said that the figures show that education is not working, and handheld lasers should be designated as prohibited weapons.
From CBC News. Note that a few days later, the Ottawa Citizen did an analysis of Transport Canada’s database which shows different figures: 663 laser incidents in 2015, which is up 32% from the 2014 total of 502.
The following is from the BALPA website, Feb. 15 2016. More news items referencing BALPA are here.
LASER INCIDENT SHOWS MORE ACTION IS NEEDED
Last night’s laser attack incident clearly shows why more needs to be done to tackle the growing use of lasers against aircraft.
The crew of Virgin Atlantic flight VS25 bound for New York took the decision to return to Heathrow after reportedly being attacked with a laser shortly after take off.
Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA, said,
“This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength.
“It is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Shining a laser at an aircraft puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at completely unnecessary risk.
“Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight.
“We are sure the police will do everything in their power to find the culprits of this attack and prosecute them.
“We repeat our call to the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them. This incident shows why this is becoming more-and-more urgent.
“Pilots across the world know how dangerous laser attacks are and therefore will join with me in commending the actions of the crew of VS25 who put their passengers’ safety first and took the decision to return to Heathrow.”
For comparison, in the United States from January 1 2009 through May 31 2015, there were 21,414 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. (An additional 457 incidents were reported during June 2015.) From January 1 2004 through December 31 2015 there were 29,097 laser incidents reported to FAA.
U.K. information from the Daily Mail. U.S. information from FAA data.
As of February 4, Califf’s nomination still awaited Senate approval.
Sen. Schumer, a Democrat from New York State, issued a statement saying “We’re only one month into 2016 and already there has been a green laser strike targeting aircrafts in the New York metropolitan area. We need to do something, and that is why I am pushing the FDA Commissioner nominee to act ahead of his confirmation. Green laser pointers have been a repeated danger to pilots across the country and I will continue to urge the FDA to use its authority and finally ban green, long-range, high-powered laser pointers once and for all.”
According to Newsday, there would be an exemption for professional uses. No additional details on the exemption criteria were available.
From Newsday (Note: accessing the article may require payment or answering survey questions)
Examinations were done within three days of the strikes: “Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study visual acuity, colour vision, visual fields, intraocular pressure, slit-lamp examination, dilated fundus examination, colour fundus photographs, and ocular coherence tomography.”
The paper concluded, “Our study revealed that laser strikes on aircraft did not result in permanent visual functional or structural deficits. However, laser strikes cause immediate visual effects, including glare, flash blindness, and ocular irritation that can interfere with a pilot’s visual function.”
From the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology, December 2015, Volume 50, Issue 6, pages 429-432. For the full abstract of the study, click the “Read More…” link.
Click to read more...
Here is the same data, presented to show the number of incidents per day:
Below is a closeup of the 2014-2015 data. The thin light blue line represents the number of incidents on each day. Note the wide variability, from as few as no reports in a day (May 27 2014) to as many as 65 on December 11 2015.The thick blue line is a 30-day moving average, to smooth out the data.
Both charts show identical data. On the second chart, two dates have been highlighted. Around July 1 2015, the number of incidents per day (light blue line) starts to increase. The only significant change that LaserPointerSafety.com can find around that time, is that on July 16 (purple line) there was widespread nationwide publicity about 11 flights that were illuminated on July 15 in and around New Jersey.
However, this event is not a full explanation. While the publicity may have triggered a “copycat” effect, it is apparent from both the thin and thick lines that incidents had been increasing at least two weeks prior to July 16.
Another date with widespread nationwide publicity is marked, November 12 2015 (red line). Three news helicopters and a police helicopter were illuminated in New York City the night before. Again, while there is some increase in incidents after that date, there also was a consistent increase from July through November.
Based on this analysis, “Copycat” laser use does not seem to be a significant factor in the near-doubling of 2015 laser incidents.
“An airline pilot presented to our department complaining of a blind spot in the upper left area of his visual field in the right eye (right supero-nasal scotoma) following exposure to a laser beam while performing a landing maneuver of a commercial aircraft. At around 1300 ft (396 m), a blue laser beam from the ground directly entered his right eye, with immediate flash blindness and pain. Spectral domain ocular coherence tomography highlighted a localized area of photoreceptor disruption corresponding to a well demarcated area of hypofluorescence on fundus autofluorescence, representing a focal outer retinal laser injury. Fundus examination a fortnight later revealed a clinically identifiable lesion in the pilot’s right eye commensurate with a retinal-laser burn.”
The paper said the pilot’s symptoms “fully resolved 2 wk later” and that there was no “deficit in visual function.”
Click to read more...
The April 30 2015 decision by three judges of the Ninth Circuit found that prosecutors had not presented evidence of “reckless endangerment” of aircraft. The judges sent the case back to the U.S. district court in Los Angeles for a new sentencing hearing under a new judge. Under the original sentencing guidelines, Gardenhire had been recommended for 27 to 33 months in prison taking into account the reckless endangerment charge, or 4 to 10 months in prison without the charge.
From Ars Technica
This is an update to a similar warning issued December 16 2010. It contains more specific guidance about how to tell whether a handheld pointer may be over the U.S. limit of 5 mW for a laser sold as a “pointer” or for pointing purposes.
Also, the 2015 version includes details about how to report potential laser injuries to FDA’s MedWatch medical device reporting system, and what information to include in the MedWatch report.
The full text of the FDA Safety Communication is below; click the “Read More…” link.
From U.S. FDA: December 22 2015 safety communication, and December 16 2010 safety notification
UPDATED February 19 2015 — The FDA also produced a video, entitled “Laser Pointer Safety”. The 3 1/2 minute presentation shows some of the hazards of laser pointers. It also gives recommendations on how to select and safely use laser pointers. From the FDA’s YouTube channel.Click to read more...
BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapon
PY132A Blinding Laser Weapon
China’s use of the weapons appears to violate the 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which China has agreed to follow. A Washington Free Beacon article quoted an expert on Chinese weapons as saying “There is a strong possibility these new dazzlers are being marketed for foreign sale.”
From China Military Online via the Washington Free Beacon. Additional photos showing the weapons and how they would be used are at Huanqui.com.
An AirSafe summary noted that from 2010 through 2014, there were only eight days with no laser encounters reported in the U.S. The graph below shows the distribution of incidents, with most days having between 7-12 laser strikes:
Analysis by day of the week, and by month of the year, showed Friday and Saturday evenings as having a greater likelihood of illuminations. July through November saw higher-than-normal numbers of incidents.
The AirSafe study also looked at six selected metropolitan areas. It compared the number of flights to the number of incidents. Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco had higher-than-normal numbers of incidents; Chicago and New York were about average, and Atlanta was below average.
From AirSafe.com: summary page, and detailed analysis as a webpage, PDF and RPubs versions. Links are given to the raw FAA data, the processed version used by AirSafe, and statistical R code. Thanks to Dr. Todd Curtis who did the study and brought this to our attention.
Between November 18 and December 6 2015, there have been at least three incidents, involving six aircraft, where pilots were illuminated with light from “Star Shower” laser projectors. In all cases, the illumination appeared to be inadvertent. The devices were being used for holiday decorating, and stray beams went into airspace. (E.g., a person was not knowingly aiming the Star Shower at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft.)
The Star Shower emits “thousands” of laser beams from two sources, one green and one red. A homeowner can simply aim the Star Shower at her house or foliage, and instantly cover it with green, or green plus red, laser dots.
The projector head. It screws into a stake that is placed in the ground for outdoor use.
A home densely covered with laser “stars” from multiple Star Shower projectors. Both photos from the Star Shower website.
According to a comprehensive story in Inquisitr, Star Shower is so popular that it is sold out in many locations. TravelPulse calls it a “laser cannon.”
The Federal Aviation Administration on December 8 2015 tweeted “Decorating for the holidays? A stray laser could blind a pilot.” They then provided a link to general information about laser/aviation safety. An FAA spokesperson told CBS Philly, ““I don’t think anybody who buys these devices even think they have enough power to hit an aircraft in the sky…. If the box is aimed a little high, some of the lasers will not hit the roof of the house, they’ll keep going into space.”
While there is no warning on the outer packaging, the Star Shower instruction sheet says: “NOTICE: Lasers should not be projected at or within the flight path of an aircraft within 10 nautical miles [11.5 miles] of an airport. If your intended surface is within 10 nautical miles of an airport, lower the angle of the Star Shower so that no lasers point into the sky.”
In a December 9 2015 statement to NBC Los Angeles, the manufacturer added: “Star Shower Laser Lights operate by taking a single laser beam and diffracting it into thousands of individual laser beams. Each beam emitted by Star Shower is much lower in power than a typical laser pointer. Each individual laser beam is 10 times less than the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) allowed by the FAA normal flight zone (NFZ) criteria.”
In an urban or suburban environment, it is likely that most homes are within 10 NM of some type of airport. It may not be a major metropolitan airport; it could be a small general aviation facility. In a December 3 2015 incident, a Boeing 737 at 13,000 feet and 22 miles east of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, reported seeing lights from what was believed to be a “laser holiday light display.”
From the FAA, Inquisitr, NBC Los Angeles
Analysis and commentary by LaserPointerSafety.com
ADVICE FOR OUTDOOR USE
After purchasing and testing a Star Shower, here is our summary advice for consumers. Details then follow.
The Star Shower is essentially eye-safe, and does not cause direct interference (glare) with pilots’ vision after about 411 feet. However, a single beamlet can be a distraction to pilots at least 3/4 of a mile away, and possibly further away due to the large number of laser dots aimed into the sky causing a flashing effect.
For this reason, a Star Shower needs to be aimed so that beams don’t go into airspace. You do not want an officer knocking on your door because a pilot saw and reported your home laser projector. While it is unlikely you would be arrested for an unknowing aircraft illumination, federal penalties for laser pointer misuse range up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Putting the projector closer to a house will keep more of the beams on the structure. Similarly, don’t aim it up into a tree unless the tree is very dense, such as an evergreen.
It should also be noted that there are reports such as this and this of Star Showers being stolen from yards. If you put your projector on a roof or up in a tree, aiming downwards, this both helps aviation (no beams going up into the air) and makes it harder to steal the projector. Finally, if you are in a heavy air traffic area, you might want to consider restricting it to indoor use only.
IS A STAR SHOWER LEGAL?
Under U.S. federal law, the Star Shower is legal to own and operate. As a Class IIIa (3R) laser, there are no federal restrictions on its use. The federal law prohibiting laser pointer misuse may not apply, for two reasons. 1) It prohibits knowingly aiming at an aircraft or its flight path, and 2) the law applies to “laser pointers…designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter….” This definition would not seem to apply to a device that is not a pointer, and is not used “…to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.”
A few states or localities may have restrictions on lasers that would affect Star Shower. Since it is not a laser pointer, and is not used for pointing, restrictions that cover laser pointers may not apply (depending on the exact definition). Some selected state and local laws are here.
Common sense says that a person should not stare into the beams, and that they should not be aimed to harass others. Similarly, the beams should not be aimed down a road or up into the sky, where they could interfere with drivers or pilots.
PURCHASING AND PACKAGING
In early December 2015, we purchased a Star Shower for $40 from a CVS drugstore. The box lists a sales website at BulbHead.com, and the distributor as Telebrands. It also says “Made in China.”
Both the box and the device have the proper FDA-mandated laser safety labeling. The device is FDA Class IIIa, meaning less than 5 milliwatts output. There are two apertures, one for 532 nm green laser beams and one for 650 nm red beams. A diffraction grating in front of each laser breaks the single beam into dozens or “thousands” of less-powerful beamlets. In a foggy or smoky environment, it is possible to see the beamlets in the air, but they are too weak to be seen in clear air.
Although the Star Shower has been popular for the Christmas 2015 season, the packaging does not emphasize this. Instead it says the Star Shower is “great for” indoor, landscaping, holiday, winter and summer uses. The advantages are: “No ladders, no hanging, no dead bulbs, no mess — just plug it in.”
We took it to laser expert Greg Makhov of Lighting Systems Design Inc. for testing. Keep in mind that he tested just this one sample unit; we assume it is representative of the other Star Showers that have been sold.
Makhov used two different types of power meters, both which could measure in the microwatt and milliwatt region. He found that the maximum power of a single beam was 0.4 milliwatts. The chart below shows details.
ESSENTIALLY NO EYE INJURY HAZARD
The brightest single beam, at 0.4 mW, is below the 1.0 mW Class II limit. Class II laser pointers are generally considered to be safe for accidental exposure. Eye injury from a Star Shower would be almost impossible unless a person at close range deliberately overcame his aversion to bright light and stared for many seconds into one of the beamlets, keeping it at the same spot in his visual field.
While the chart shows the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance to be as far as 19 feet, keep in mind this is a “nominal” hazard. This does NOT mean that beams will cause injury at this distance. There is a kind of safety factor built in to the NOHD. A quick approximation is that at about 1/3 the NOHD (about 6 feet in this case), there is a 50-50 chance of a laser kept steady on the eye causing the smallest medically detectable lesion on the retina, under laboratory conditions.
GLARE UP TO 411 FEET, DISTRACTION TO 3/4 MILE
The chart also shows the visual interference hazard distances. For example, a pilot could experience veiling glare (she can’t see past the light) up to 411 feet away from the Star Shower projector. The light does not interfere with vision, but is a mental distraction, up to 4,105 feet away — a little over three quarters of a mile.
The above eye and visual interference calculations are for a single beamlet, for two reasons. First, at aviation distances, only one beamlet would enter the eye at a time. They are not so close together that two separate beamlets of the same color would be within one pupil diameter. The second reason is that even a person is so close to the Star Shower that two separate beamlets enter his pupil, each one will be focused onto a different area of the retina. This means that the beams don’t overlap — they are heating different areas. This is why we are primarily concerned — both for eye safety and for aviation interference — with the hazard of a single beamlet.
Now, when a helicopter flies through the dozens or “thousands” of laser beams, this can be more distracting than a single beam. It is no wonder that a pilot might report the laser display, and have it re-aimed or shut down.
Although an FAA spokesperson said a Star Shower was reported by a pilot who was at 15,000 feet, at this distance any single beamlet would be far below the FAA’s distraction limit. This means any beamlet would be no brighter than surrounding city or airport lights. It could be that the large number of beamlets caused flashes as the aircraft flew through them, and that this flashing was itself a distraction. Either way, no competent pilot at 15,000 feet should have any visual interference from a Star Shower. The only problem could be mental distraction, if the pilot paid more attention to the light than to flying the aircraft.
DISASSEMBLY AND HACKING (UPDATED DECEMBER 2016)
In early December 2016, Julius R. wrote to us wondering about the safety implications of opening the Star Shower and removing the star-creating holographic diffraction grating.
Our Star Shower, purchased in December 2015, has four security screws hidden behind rubber caps. The screws are at the bottom of a 2-1/4” deep shaft that is 5/16” in diameter. The screw head shape is a triangle with a raised dot in the center:
It would require a long screwdriver with a matching tip to reach and undo the screw. A brief search of Google Images to try to find such a screwdriver did not turn up any instances.
Certainly someone might be able to find such a tip, or to grind a shaft to fit. And breaking the Star Shower’s plastic housing could also give access to the inside. So if someone really wanted to get at the interior lasers, it would be possible.
We estimate that each of the lasers on the inside would be in the 10 to 50 milliwatt range. This power can cause an eye injury, although the injury would be relatively minor (assuming an unintentional exposure; deliberate staring into any laser beam should never be done). It is at the low end of Class 3B lasers.
There are similar lasers, and much more powerful ones, readily available online. They would be cost the same or even less, and would be much easier to use. So a laser hobbyist or hacker is unlikely to use a Star Shower as a source for red and green single-beam lasers.
In short, disassembly and misuse of the interior lasers is not a significant safety concern.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Anyone with further questions can contact us; click the link below in the footer at the bottom of the page.
The following is a press release issued by the Senator, followed by (after the “Read More:” link) a copy of the Senator’s letter to the FDA Commissioner:
Standing in the terminal at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range green laser pointers to the public. Schumer’s push comes on the heels of multiple incidents in which green lasers were pointed at aircraft and temporarily blinded and disoriented pilots mid-flight. This includes the recent incident two weeks ago when the pilot of a FedEx plane flying over Jamestown reported a green beam of light coming from a laser on the ground lighting up the aircraft. Schumer said that while it is lucky no one was harmed in the Jamestown incident or any other green laser attack, the federal government should act before a horrific event occurs, not after.
“Simply put: these green, long-range, high-powered laser pointers are a danger to our pilots and the hundreds of passengers whose lives depend on their eyesight and training. While we are very lucky the recent incident in Jamestown did not yield devastating results, we cannot sit idly by and wait for a horrific incident to occur before we act,” said Schumer. “That is why I am calling on the FDA to use its authority to regulate these dangerous devices. They're quickly becoming the weapon of choice for wrong-doers who want to harass our pilots and put passengers’ lives in jeopardy, and they should be banned before people are seriously hurt.”
Schumer said there has been a recent onslaught of green laser pointer attacks on aircraft that threaten the safety of pilots, passengers, and civilians on the ground. According to a USA Today report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded more than 5,300 laser strikes from January of this year through October 16, up from the more than 2,800 laser strikes reported in 2010. Schumer said numbers like these suggest a widespread misuse of the product and mean it should only be available to qualified professionals. According to the same USA Today report, between the night of November 11 and the morning of November 12, federal authorities reported 20 laser strikes on aircraft across the country, including the case in Jamestown. Schumer said the fact that the plane was flying more than 23,000 feet in the air shows how powerful these lasers are, and how dangerous they can be when they get into the wrong hands. As a result, Schumer is urging the FDA to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range green laser pointers to the public.
Laser pointers at one time were primarily used for presentation purposes in boardrooms and classrooms, they are now wildly available at trinket shops, flea markets, retailers and on the Internet, and are much more powerful. According to the FDA, laser pointers can be momentarily hazardous when staring directly at the beam. For pilots, these green lasers can cause flash blindness, a temporary or permanent loss of vision when the light-sensitive parts of the eye are exposed to an intensity of light they are not physically meant to handle. In addition, research suggests green lasers are more dangerous to the eye than red lasers because the light spectrum is more easily absorbed by the retina and more susceptible to damage. In fact, green lasers are considered to be more than double the strength of other colored lasers and can travel for miles, according to many media reports and health and aviation experts. Schumer there are certain types of lasers for which manufacturers must obtain FDA permission before they can be sold in the U.S., and green lasers should be included in that category so they are only sold to professionals, rather than would-be pranksters.
Because the FDA has the authority to regulate these lasers and their manufacturers, Schumer is strongly urging the federal agency to make high-powered, green laser pointers unavailable for public sale; they should be restricted to those with a specific professional purpose. Schumer said that while perpetrators convicted of pointing a laser at a plane can be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, they are often hard to track down following an incident. Because the products are merely required to have a warning label, Schumer said more must be done to limit public availability in order to protect public health and safety.
Schumer was joined by Adam Perry, Aviation Committee Chairman at the NFTA, Kimberly A. Minkel, NFTA Executive Director, and George Gast, NFTA Police Chief.
“I applaud Senator Schumer for his efforts to ensure the safety of our aviation industry,” said Kimberley A. Minkel, Executive Director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. “I hope the FDA responds to the senator’s request in a manner that will make it much more difficult for laser pointers to be available. Lasing is a serious crime that poses an imminent threat to aviation safety and could result in a pilot losing control of their aircraft, thus potentially causing mass casualties.”
Previously, the FDA has noted concern about the increased availability of some laser products. According to a March 2013 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), green lasers generate green light from infrared light, from which the eye cannot protect itself. In that NIST report, the agency noted that ideally, the device should be designed and manufactured to confine the infrared light within the laser housing. However, according to the NIST results, more than 75 percent of the devices tested emitted infrared light in excess of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) limit.
Schumer said in New York incidents of green lasers pointed at aircraft have been numerous and significant. In addition to the most recent one in Jamestown, there were 39 laser incidents between January 1, 2015 and May 15, 2015 in New York City alone. In 2014, there were 17 green laser incidents out of a total 19 laser incidents at JFK airport; 37 green laser incidents out of a total 41 laser incidents at LaGuardia Airport; 20 green laser incidents out of a total 28 at Newark.
There are four major hazard classes (I to IV) of lasers, including three subclasses (IIa, IIIa, IIIb). The higher the class, the more powerful the laser. Consumer laser products include classes I, II and IIIa and lasers for professional use may be in classes IIIb and IV. Laser pointers are included in Class IIIa. The FDA requires warning labels on most laser products, including the power output and the hazard class of the product. Some lasers are strictly for use by medical, industrial or entertainment professionals and can only be used by a person with a license and training.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FDA appears below: [click on the “Read More…” link]
Click to read more...
From January 1 to June 30 2015, there were more than 400 laser incidents reported to CAA. Heathrow had the most incidents by count, with 48 in the first half of the year. (This is actually fewer incidents per month than last year, when there were 168 total Heathrow laser reports for all of 2014.)
By proportion of laser incidents to air traffic volume, there was a higher frequency of attacks at regional airports such as Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and Newcastle.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) on November 2015 released the results of a survey of its pilot members, showing that 50% had reported a laser/aircraft incident during the period from November 2014 to November 2015.
From the Guardian and the Express. The CAA and BALPA statistics were released along with news of a British Airways pilot who reportedly suffered severe retinal injury from a spring 2015 exposure to a “military-strength” laser.
Except for the involvement of multiple helicopters in New York City, the twenty November 11 overnight events were actually close to the current 2015 average of the 18.3 reported incidents per night.
It is normal for day-to-day incident numbers to fluctuate. For example, a day later on November 12, there were six incidents according to Slate.
Another example of the variability of daily incidents is shown by the day-to-day numbers for 2014. During the year there was an overall average of 10.7 incidents per day. The graph shows that daily numbers (light line) varied from 0 reported laser incidents to 24. (The dark line shows a 30-day moving average, to help smooth out the data. Day-to-day figures for 2015 are not yet available.)
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration made a Facebook post describing the November 11 incidents:
More than 20 aircraft were struck by lasers from the ground last night while flying over cities across the United States. Three laser strikes were reported in the New York City/Newark, N.J early in the evening, followed by three incidents in Texas, where jets were struck while preparing to land at Dallas Love Field. By late evening, pilots reported laser incidents in:
New York/Newark; Dallas; Jamestown, NY; Oakland, CA; Covington, KY; Danville, KY; Palm Springs, CA; Salt Lake City; Los Angeles; Albuquerque; Detroit; Ontario, CA; St. Petersburg, FL; Springfield, IL; San Juan, PR; Sacramento
None of the pilots reported injuries. Nevertheless, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime that the U.S. vigorously pursues. Lasers distract pilots from their safety duties and can lead to temporary blindness during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. In some cases in the past, pilots have reported eye injuries that required medical treatment.
As of Oct. 16, the total number of laser strikes around the U.S. this year was 5,352.
Media stories that referenced the incidents included the following headlines and leads:
With new flurry overnight, laser strikes on aircraft hit record pace, USA Today
“Laser strikes on planes are growing even as the federal government enacts tougher penalties for people caught shining the devices. Overnight Thursday federal authorities fielded reports of more than 20 laser strikes on aircraft, adding to an already record-breaking number of strikes this year.”
Overnight outbreak of lasers pointed at aircraft, CBS Evening News
“The FAA says 20 aircraft were targeted by people with bright laser pointers Wednesday night in cities across the nation. Kris Van Cleave reports on the surge in these types of incidents.”
FAA: Lasers beams hit more than 20 aircraft overnight, Washington Post
“Federal authorities have launched an investigation after numerous aircraft were hit by laser beams Wednesday night. More than 20 aircraft were struck while in flight over at least 16 U.S. cities, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration. Authorities said three strikes were reported to the FAA in the New York City area, followed by three in Texas that hit jets that were preparing to land.”
Lasers hit 20 aircraft flying in U.S. overnight - FAA, Reuters
“Dangerous beams from handheld lasers struck 20 aircraft flying over the United States and its territories overnight, among the nearly 5,400 laser hits in the nation so far this year, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday. No injuries were reported in the incidents, which took place from New York City to Sacramento, and resulted in at least one arrest. Authorities said the incidents did not appear to be linked to each other.”
6 aircraft hit by lasers in New York, Dallas on Wednesday, Fox News
“Three news helicopters in New York and three planes near Dallas were hit by laser beams on Wednesday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots for choppers flying for CBS New York, WNBC and WABC each described seeing a laser in their cockpit while flying over a scene in Park Slope, Brooklyn, CBS reported.”
High Number Of Laser Strikes In One Night Has Pilots Uneasy, CBS Sacramento
“The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into a series of laser strikes on aircraft across the country, including a possible strike at Sacramento International Airport. The exact details of that reported laser strike have not been made available yet, but for pilots these little beams of light are a huge concern. It was a busy night for law enforcement and air traffic control across the nation, with more than 20 pilots reporting laser pointers aimed at their cockpits.”