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US: WestJet pilot is said to have eyes "burned" at 10,000 feet

A WestJet passenger plane about 25 miles from landing at Orlando International Airport was illuminated by a green laser on May 18 2019. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft was descending through 10,000 feet at the time of the incident. FAA also reported that the pilot's eyes were burned.

The flight continued to Orlando's airport and landed about 15 minutes after the incident.

At FAA's request, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office was asked to investigate a possible location for the laser. Deputies found a house with a bright green porch light, but the residents said they did not own a laser pointer.

The pilot was referred for medical examination, as per WestJet's standard operating procedure.

WestJet released a statement: "Laser incidents pose a serious concern to crew and aircraft safety and have serious repercussions for those found to be shining lasers in a manner that could result in injury or damage. These incidents are reported immediately to local authorities for further investigation. Pilots are extremely focused during all phases of flight, but especially during take-off and landing, when most laser incidents occur. When any sort of light enters the flight deck, pilots are trained to look away and maintain focus but they must also maintain vigilant with respect to their surroundings and monitor the apron prior to landing. Pilots take on an incredible responsibility controlling an aircraft, and it is WestJet’s duty to ensure a safe work environment for them to operate in. Any pilot who reports being struck by a laser is required for safety and health reasons to have an ophthalmology evaluation."

From the Aviation Voice, WESH.com, News965.com, and ClickOrlando.com

COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

It is almost a certainty that the pilot's eyes were not burned by the laser exposure. A laser beam that traveled 10,000 feet would have to be extraordinarily powerful to even potentially cause an eye injury.

Laser beams spread out with distance. At 10,000 feet a laser beam would expand to be at least three feet wide. Only a fraction of the beam power would go through the pupil of the pilot's eye. (In fact, of the original laser irradiance, only 0.003 percent would go through the pilot's pupil.)

What power would it take? A 190 watt laser with a very narrow 1 milliradian beam has a Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of about 10,000 feet. This means the laser light is generally considered safe after the NOHD distance. This does not mean that just inside the NOHD there would be an injury. Laser safety standards have a built in "safety factor" or "reduction factor."

To have a 50/50 chance of causing the smallest medically detectable eye injury at a distance of 10,000 feet, the laser would have to be about 1,900 watts at a 1 mrad divergence.

By comparison, the most powerful handheld lasers currently available are in the 3 watt range with claimed wattage (not confirmed) up to about 6 watts. Most laser pointers used in incidents are less than 1 watt.

It may be that someone aimed a non-handheld, plug-in-the-wall laser beam at the pilot. Even here, 190 to 1,900 watts is fairly powerful. There are some industrial and research lasers much more powerful than this, but to the best of our knowledge the only non-handheld lasers involved in aircraft lasings have been from laser light shows. For such shows, 60 to 80 watts is about the most powerful from a single laser source. There were no reported outdoor laser light shows the night of the WestJet incident.

Some news articles gave an impression that, because the pilot's eyes were burned, he or she went for a medical examination. But as explained above, this is routine policy. WestJet requires "any pilot who reports being struck by a laser … to have an ophthalmology evaluation."

It could be that the pilot had an eye effect, such as irritation from the bright flash of light, or that the pilot rubbed his or her eyes so hard that they scratched their cornea — a painful condition which heals.

For more information

More information about laser eye effects on pilots is here. A quick summary is that 1) there have been no proven or documented eye injuries to pilots according to U.S. FAA, U.K. CAA and Transport Canada, and 2) top laser safety experts have written that "There is no evidence to suggest that lasers pointed at airplane cockpits damage pilots’ eyesight."

A table listing eye effects and incidents reported to U.S. FAA in past years is on the laser/aircraft incident statistics page.

Canada: UPDATED - Two laser incidents in two days in P.E.I.; child said to have caused one

On July 15 2017, a green laser beam was pointed at an Air Force search-and-rescue aircraft near Fernwood, Prince Edward Island. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the laser was aimed at the aircraft for about 15-20 minutes. A pilot was “dazzled” by the light. The crew were later checked by an eye specialist. None of them had serious or lasting vision problems due to the laser.

The next night, a green laser beam was pointed for 5-10 seconds at a commercial aircraft as it was preparing to land in Charlottetown, which is about 60 km east of Fernwood. The beam came from the Brackley Beach area about 15 km northwest of the Charlottetown Airport, at about 11 pm local time. Neither pilot in the WestJet aircraft looked into the light; they were able to land without incident.

RCMP on July 17 asked the public for help in finding the perpetrators of these incidents.

A follow-up news story quoted a former pilot as saying the person responsible should “face justice.” He said it was a “very dangerous thing to have happen to you, and they are so destructive… Make the penalties very severe when they’re caught.”

In Canada, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense punishable to up to five years in prison and/or up to $100,000.

On July 18, a witness contacted RCMP to say he was on Brackley Beach from 10:00 to 11:30 pm. He said a child of about 10-12 years old was using a laser to point at several things, including two aircraft. He said the child was tracing the path of a plane, but was not trying to shine it in the cockpit.

The child and his or her family is not known. RCMP said charges might not be placed in this case: “It does appear that this specific incident was a child at play and not a direct criminal offence. That being said, the child was in the custodial guardianship of two adults and RCMP are asking that items of this nature not be used for entertainment and not be provided to young children as they are unaware of the danger that they can inflict."

The director general for civil aviation, Aaron McCrorie, said there were 333 reported incidents in 2012, 590 incidents in 2015, and 527 in 2016. He said there was only one reported laser/aircraft incident in PEI in the past five years; it took place in 2015.

McCrorie said there have been no accidents in Canada due to such incidents but there have been some cases of permanent eye damage to pilots.

From CBC News (
initial report, follow-up, witness report, McCrorie quotes) and OHS Canada

Note: LaserPointerSafety reached out to Transport Canada for clarification about McCrorie’s claim of cases of permanent eye damage to pilots, since we are unaware of any such documented cases with civil pilots either in Canada or worldwide. On July 20 2017, we received an email response from Julie Leroux, Communications Advisor, Media Relations, Transport Canada:

“Laser pointers have serious effects that distract and temporarily blind pilots. While Transport Canada has received reports of pilots experiencing eye damage as a result of a laser strike, due to doctor-patient confidentiality, the department is not in a position to provide details about specific cases.

Generally, pilots report suffering from eye irritation or light sensitivity after being struck in the eye by a laser, which could seriously affect their ability to fly safely.

Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was referring to Canadian cases only.”


On July 26 2017, Leroux further clarified via email:

"Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was misquoted in the [CBC News] story you reference. During the interview he stated Transport Canada is aware of incidents that caused temporary damage to pilots’ eyes, but did not refer to a specific case of permanent blinding. Transport Canada is not aware of any cases where a pilot suffered permanent eye damage as the result of a laser strike."

Canada: Pilot goes to doctor; subsequent flight canceled after laser illuminates WestJet

Green laser light aimed at a WestJet aircraft on August 22 2016 caused a pilot to seek medical attention after the flight landed in Fort McMurray, Alberta. This, in turn, caused a subsequent flight to be canceled until a new pilot could be brought in.

The severity of the medical complaint, and the pilot’s diagnosis and treatment, were not known. A WestJet spokesperson cited privacy concerns.

The Boeing 737 flight originated in Toronto. The laser was said to have come from “a wooded area in the middle of nowhere”, when the plane was at about 3,500 feet altitude.

According to CBC, there were 40 laser incidents reported in Alberta in May 2016, and 500 incidents in all of Canada in 2015. (According to the Ottawa Citizen, there were 502 laser illuminations in the Transport Canada CADORS database in 2014, and 663 incidents in 2015.)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo were investigating the incident.

From CBC, CTV News and the National Post

Canada: UPDATED - Pilots suffer itching, irritation from laser strike while landing in Ottawa

Two WestJet Boeing 737 pilots suffered “minor itching and irritation” after they were illuminated by a green laser beam while landing at an Ottawa’s Macdonald Cartier International airport.

The incident occurred September 23 2014. The laser was pointed at the plane for around 2-4 minutes. Police are looking for the perpetrator.

Earlier in the month, on September 5, a Porter Airlines flight from Toronto was flashed with a green laser as it approached the Ottawa runway, according to CBC News.

A WestJet spokesperson said the pilots were cleared to fly and there was no permanent damage: “... there are real health repercussions for being exposed to a laser beam, so we do have a protocol in place where they will get checked out and there is also follow-ups.”
Click to read more...

Canada: 2 laserings of commercial airplanes in 2 months, near Victoria BC

A green laser beam was pointed at a WestJet flight landing in Victoria (BC) on January 10 2012. Pilots did not look directly at the light. This was the second report of a laser being pointed at a commercial airliner in two months, according to Saanich police. A CTV video report goes into more detail about the incident:



From CTV News