WASHINGTON—The FBI this week announced a program aimed at busting people who point lasers at aircraft—a felony punishable by five years in jail. The FBI is offering up to $10,000 for “information leading to the arrest of any individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft.” Doing so became a federal offense in 2012.
The new initiative will in will run for 60 days in 12 FBI field offices where laser strikes against aircraft are prevalent: Albuquerque, N.M.; Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Washington Field Office. The effort includes a public information campaign about “lasing”
Handheld laser pointers the size of fountain pens have the reach and diffusion that can temporarily blind pilots when pointed directly at the eyes. The frequency of incidences has accelerated as the devices become ubiquitous. A green laser pointer can be had for about $10. Television news helicopters have been among those aircraft targeted.
“Since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been a more than 1,000 percent increase in the number of incidents with these devices,” the FBI said. “Last year, 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft were reported—an average of almost 11 incidents per day. And it’s estimated that thousands of attacks go unreported every year. As of December 2013, the FAA has documented at least 35 incidents where pilots required medical attention after a laser strike.”
A new law lowered the threshold for prosecution, said George Johnson, a federal air marshal who serves as a liaison officer with the Bureau on laser issues. “and the trend is on the rise for jail time in these cases.” Last month, for example, a 23-year-old California man was sentenced to 21 months in prison for aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. Court records showed that the man deliberately tracked and struck the aircraft.
The FBI illustrated its point with a YouTube video: