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Canada: Pilots want lasing aircraft to be a crime

The president of the Canada section of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has said that lasing an aircraft in Canada should be made a criminal offense, and the government should launch an information campaign to discourage misuse. He also said high-powered lasers should have warning labels and require permits to use them.

Tim Perry made his proposals May 11 2020 after a Jazz Aviation pilot was hospitalized due to being illuminated by laser light on approach to Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, on February 15 2020. The laser source was about three nautical miles from the aircraft. The co-pilot of the de Havilland DHC-8-300 passenger aircraft had to turn control over to the captain, who was able to land without incident. The co-pilot was taken to hospital as a precaution due to actual or potential injuries. No additional information was made available by Jazz due to privacy restrictions.

Perry said that other Canadian aviators have actually suffered permanent retinal damage as a result of laser strikes, according to the National Post. Details on the Jazz pilot's condition, or on the other pilots — how many, degree of severity, eventual outcome — were not listed in the Post article. There were eye injury claims in February 2020 when an Ornge medical support aircraft was struck by a green laser in downtown Toronto, and an eye injury claim by a WestJet pilot flying from Newfoundland to Orlando in May 2019.

The article stated that "Most of the reports in the CADORS [aviation incident] database indicate that police were notified, but neither Transport Canada nor the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] could cite an example of anyone in Canada ever being prosecuted." [Note: LaserPointerSafety.com has found at least four cases of Canadian prosecutions.]

Canada has previously taken steps to reduce laser/aircraft incidents. These may be having some effect, as laser incidents have been dropping from a reported high of 658 in 2015, to 274 in 2019, according to the National Post article.

On June 28 2018 Transport Minister Marc Garneau banned the use of hand-held lasers 1 milliwatt or more (the power of a small pet laser pointer) in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and within 10 km of airports or heliports. There are exceptions for uses such as work, education, school or astronomy.

Any person with a battery-operated, handheld laser in a prohibited zone 1) outside of a private dwelling and 2) without a legitimate purpose can be fined immediately and “on the spot” up to CDN $5,000. A corporation violating the law can be fined up to CDN $25,000. The fines are in addition to any criminal prosecution; intentionally aiming a laser at an aircraft can result in five years in prison and/or up to CDN $100,000 in fines.

On May 24 2016, Garneau announced a social media awareness campaign. This included setting up a webpage in June 2015 that includes a catchy animated video, “Dumb Ways to Blind” aimed at millennials, plus three other more conventional videos on the topic. Transport Canada also tweeted using the hashtag "#NotABrightIdea".

Section 7.41(1) of Part I of the Canadian Aeronautics Act is a general prohibition against behavior that endangers aircraft. It provides a fine of up to CDN $100,000 and up to five years in prison for interfering with the duties of a crew member. This has been cited by Transport Canada as part of its webpages discouraging persons from aiming at aircraft.

From the National Post, March 11 2020. Note that there has been a discrepancy between newspaper reports of the number of annual laser/aircraft incidents, and Transport Canada figures. For more information, see the Canada section on the Laser/aircraft incident statistics page. Thanks to Randy Paura for bringing this news to our attention.

South Africa: 70+ laser incidents reported in 2018

According to a May 14 2019 story in the New Age Online, "More than 70 incidents of lasers aimed at the cockpits of aircraft on final approach were reported to Air Traffic and Navigation Services last year [2018]. The majority were in Cape Town, with incidents also reported at OR Tambo International, Pretoria’s Wonderboom and Lanseria International."

In one case at at O.R. Tambo, Africa's busiest airport, "a commercial airliner on final approach to touchdown had to perform a go-around after a laser was directed at the eyes of the flight crew."

Two men in Bloemfontein were recently arrested for aiming lasers at helicopters. According to the story, "[a]s far as can be ascertained only one arrest has previously been made for shining a laser," which happened during the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup in Durban.

The New Age Online reported "Both the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Airline Pilots Association of SA (ALPA) have spoken out strongly against the practice, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail…. ALPA general manager Sonia Ferreira said members were increasingly reporting incidents of 'sudden and intense bursts of light, deliberately shone at aircraft in and around airports'."

From the New Age. The article first appeared online May 14 2019.

US: Obama signs bill making aiming laser pointers at aircraft a federal crime

President Barack Obama signed a bill on February 14 2012 which contains a provision making it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft. This new law is contained in Section 311 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 658).

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

New Zealand: 100 incidents in 2011; pilots want Class 3 laser imports banned

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association (NZALPA) has called for a ban on importation of Class 3 and 4 lasers. President Glen Kenny said that laser “strikes” have been increasing and “It has reached a stage where any member of the public can purchase a commercial grade laser and do what they please with it.” A ban would mean that only lasers with powers below 1 milliwatt could be imported for the general public.

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.
Click to read more...

South Africa: Up to 12 incidents per week, say pilots

Between 10 and 12 laser illuminations of aircraft each week are reported to the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa (ALPA-SA). A spokesperson said the number is likely much higher since pilots for large airlines would report directly to the airline. (Of four airlines contacted by the Cape Argus, one said they had “infrequent instances” which they had reported to authorities, two said they had received no complaints from flight crews, and one did not respond to requests for comment.)

ALPA-SA is calling for public education and a ban on handheld laser sales. According to the organization, there was a temporary drop in the number of incidents after media reports earlier in 2011, but the incidents are now on the rise again.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said “a few cases” had been reported thus far in 2011. He added that if the International Civil Aviation Organization introduced new regulations, the CAA would “definitely look into implementing it.”

From the Cape Argus

South Africa: 70 incidents in 2011, including a go-around; no arrests

In 2011, there were 70 laser illumination incidents in South Africa reported to Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS). One was a go-around of a commercial airliner at OR Tambo International Airport, which serves Johannesburg and is the busiest airport in Africa. Although pilots were temporarily flashblinded, the go-around did not result in any injuries.

The majority of South African incidents occurred in Cape Town, with other reports at OR Tambo, Wonderboom in Pretoria, and Lanseria International. In an incident in Lanseria, “two pilots were blinded so badly that after landing they couldn’t see the man who signaled where to park the plane” according to News24.com.

There were no persons arrested during 2011 for aiming a laser at aircraft. Over all years, there have only been two incidents resulting in arrests (as of January 11 2012):


A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said “It is a serious hazard to point laser lights at aircraft.” The maximum penalty for an offense is a “hefty fine and up to 30 years in jail.”

The general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association of South Africa said ALPA-SA members were reporting increasing numbers of incidents where “sudden and intense bursts of light [are] deliberately shone at aircraft…”

From The New Age and DefenceWeb

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: The figure of 70 incidents reported to ATNS in 2011 is probably low. A May 5 2011 news story quoted ALPA-SA as saying they receive between 10 and 12 complaints from pilots every week. That would result in 520 to 624 laser illuminations per year. Also, the 70-incident figure may be a misunderstanding or misquote. A news story from March 2011 quotes ALPA-SA as saying there were 70 incidents in the 10 months from April 1 2010 through February 28 2011; see News24.com.
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US: ALPA holds major D.C. conference on the threat of laser illuminations

An all-day conference in Washington D.C. brought together legislators, regulators, aviation safety officials and pilots to discuss "Laser Illumination of Aircraft: A Growing Threat." The October 27 2011 event was organized by ALPA, the Air Line Pilots Association. It was primarily intended to bring public attention to the many aspects of this issue. (Selected presentations are available from the ALPA laser conference website.)

Speakers generally agreed on the nature and scope of lasers as a threat to air safety. They also offered similar solutions, including educating the public to not misuse lasers, prosecuting those who do, training pilots on how to "recognize and recover" from incidents, increasing the number of reports from pilots and the public, and restricting laser pointer availability.

The ALPA conference made news primarily for the announcement of a new FAA web page, which can be reached via www.faa.gov/go/laserinfo. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the ALPA attendees that the web page -- erroneously described as a "website" in many media accounts -- would centralize the agency's information on laser/aviation safety. The page includes email addresses where pilots, air traffic control and the public can report laser incidents (see separate story about the FAA web page).

Babbitt also said that the FAA currently has filed 18 civil cases against individuals who aimed lasers at aircraft. There is a maximum $11,000 fine in each case.

Other speakers gave updates and information in their areas of expertise.Click to read more...