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UK: Growing concern over laser pointers

One man in Manchester was recently jailed for four months for endangering an aircraft after repeatedly shining a laser into the cockpit of a police helicopter from the ground.

The pilot, who was over Stockport at the time, was temporarily blinded. Unable to read his instruments, he had to make dangerous emergency manoeuvres.

This case highlights a growing concern about the inappropriate use of more powerful green laser pens or pointers.

Britain's largest pilots union BALPA has recently warned of a major air disaster unless action is taken.
The union said the perpetrators are "playing Russian roulette" with the lives of hundreds of passengers, and has suggested that some laser pens should be classified as weapons.


Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show that in 2007 there were 27 incidents involving commercial aeroplanes. Eighty cases have been reported so far this year.

Flight Lieutenant Bob Dewes is a search and rescue pilot based at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk. He described how a laser beam targeted his helicopter when on a training exercise in September.

"It's a real problem," he said. "If I was doing a rescue and I was being affected by a laser light, I would probably curtail the rescue. Not only would we be put in danger at that point, but the person we were going to rescue would be seriously put in danger as well".

Low-powered laser pens under one milliwatt (mW) - often used for presentations - are considered safe enough to be on general sale.

But stronger lasers are causing concern - particularly those over 5 mW - including some used by astronomers or scientists which can be as powerful as 240 mW.

At close range they can cause permanent blindness and skin burns, while at longer range they can still cause temporary sightlessness.

From BBC News