The improvements in laser technology have created scientific benefits for many industries. As a matter of fact, the aviation community has benefited from the advent of laser ring gyros as the basis for cockpit instrumentation and automation systems.
But lasers are also being used as destructive tools against airlines.
Whether it is nefarious intentions or just pure reckless irresponsibility, aiming a laser light at the cockpit of an operating airliner is tantamount to attempted murder. Regardless of the specifics in federal law, the act is criminal. Pure and simple. Why?
The average, run of the mill, garden variety red laser pointer used for presentations and classroom environments is very low power. Unless it is fixated on the eye for a long time, damage is not likely to occur.
But green lasers are a different story. Most green lasers generate a beam of much higher power. These are the types that have been associated with the incidents reported by commercial airplanes, such as the 11 sightings on Wednesday night in the vicinity of Newark International Airport.
High-powered lasers can cause temporary blindness, dark spots, disorientation and permanent damage to the retina. It goes without saying that these issues can be problematic for members of the flight crew involved with controlling an airplane during a critical phase of flight such as an approach. A laser can create a brief burst of blinding light within a cockpit environment already dimmed for night operation.
Fortunately, these laser events have not been attributed to any accidents or serious incidents aboard an airliner. Most likely this is because only one pilot is affected or the attack just creates a quick, temporary vision issue.
Airline pilots do not have a specific procedure for laser attacks, but rather use common sense. Once the situation is recognized, it is best to focus on cockpit instrumentation and limit glances outside. If one pilot is affected, the simple solution is to turn the controls over to the nonaffected pilot. In the rare circumstance that all crew members are affected, ensuring the autopilot is connected will maintain aircraft control until normal vision is restored.
Unofficially, most of these laser incidents appear to originate from someone irresponsible who has not a clue on the potential dangers rather than originating from a nefarious source intent on doing harm.
As a message to the irresponsible types, please consider the potential for not only devastating circumstances but the fact such actions with the laser could jeopardize the career of an airline pilot. An airline pilot’s eyes are his or her livelihood.
Perhaps it’s time to start regulating laser sales just like guns. Over a certain power level, they should require registration and a background check. And being charged with a specific felony for their use is OK, but maybe a better deterrence would be to consider it as plain-old attempted murder.
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