The United Kingdom is imposing tougher punishments for individuals who use lasers to target aircraft, cars, trains, and ships.
The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act came into effect on 10 July, having been introduced in December 2017. The new law makes laser misuse an indictable offence, and removes the previous requirement to establish proof of harm before securing a conviction. This makes it harder for offenders to claim they were acting accidentally. Now, the worst offenders face a maximum five-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.
“The public needs to recognise that lasers are not toys, and shining one at an aircraft endangers all those on board and anyone on the ground,” said Dr Rob Hunter, head of flight safety at the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).
Statistical evidence indicates that the general public understands this message. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported a 9% decrease in laser incidents in 2017, and the number of laser incidents reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has fallen each year since 2014. The 2017 total of 989 incidents represented a 21.5% decrease compared with 2016, and the lowest annual total since 2009. In March 2018 there were just 34 laser incidents, which was the lowest monthly total recorded by the CAA since June 2009.
Yet, there is no room for complacency on pilot safety, especially given the availability of inexpensive laser pens. Irresponsible, accidental, or malicious use of a laser can distract pilots on take-off or approach, and it can even cause blindness in extreme circumstances.
Eye protection technology is available for pilots. Examples include the Aviator Series from ST Laserstrike. Resembling a pair of sunglasses, this solution includes special lenses to block out red, blue, and green beams, without impairing the ability to see instrument lights in the cockpit.
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