Lawmakers Move to Criminalize Pointing Lasers at Cockpits

WASHINGTON: The senate has passed an amendment criminalizing the act of aiming a laser pointer at the cockpit of an aircraft. Violators would be subject to fines and up to five years in prison.

“Shining lasers at airplanes is not a game and places passengers and crew at risk,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who introduced the amendment. “With the increasing occurrence of these types of incidents, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.”

The Federal Aviation Administration recently reported that a record number of laser incidents were reported by pilots in 2010. Incidents nearly doubled from 2009 to 2,800 last year. (See “Laser Pointer Attacks Double in 2010.”) Catching a pilot in the eyes with a green laser pointer can temporarily blind or do permanent damage. Some cities and states have individual laws, but there is no single federal prohibition.

The amendment passed the senate 96-1 last week with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) casting the only dissenting vote. Paul said he considered an issue for states to handle.

Similar legislation is moving through the House of Representatives. H.R. 386, The Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011 was discharged from the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security on Jan. 26. It also endorses fines and imprisonment for up to five years.

-- Deborah D. McAdams