December 12, 2012

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week published another notice on the dangers of “lasering” aircraft, making good on its October promise to increase public awareness of the problem. The new notice, in the December 8 edition of the Federal Register, refers to a June 1, 2011, interpretation of Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.11, which says “no person may assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated,” and that persons violating the FAA regulation will be “subject to a civil penalty.”

“Lasering” involves illuminating cockpit windows with a handheld laser while an aircraft is low, usually on takeoff or landing. Effects of a lasering can include temporary pilot blindness lasting from several seconds to several minutes, or roughly the time a business airplane spends getting from the final approach fix of an instrument approach to the runway.

“It’s no secret that laserings of aircraft have been on the rise, coinciding with the availability of handheld, ever-more-powerful lasers at low prices,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security and regulation. “In 2005, there were 300 reported laserings, but this year it’s nearly 3,000.”

The December 8 Federal Register notice emphasizes its June 1 interpretation of FAR 91.11, which was first adopted in 1961 during a spate of airline hijackings. A 1999 amendment to the rule established that it was “clearly intended to apply to passengers….and any other ‘person’ on board the aircraft.” But the most recent FAA ruling clarified that the attacker “does not need to be aboard the aircraft to violate [the rule].”

Under the FAR, a fine of as much as $11,000 can be levied on those targeting aircraft, but catching the perpetrators is the problem. In one recent case in Los Angeles, a police helicopter was lasered but responded with intense searchlight illumination of the area, revealing a suspect with a laser. Ground officers caught that suspect, but most laserists escape.

On October 27 of this year, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen praised the FAA for its new web content with laser attack information and a section for reporting laser attacks on aircraft. “Business airplanes are just as susceptible to lasering attacks as airliners, maybe more so,” he said. “They’re generally a little slower on approach, giving the attacker more time to spotlight the cockpit, and many are flown by a single pilot.”

The FAA has asked the public for help in finding and stopping laserists targeting aircraft. “It’s the only way we track these down,” said then Administrator Randy Babbitt. “If you see someone in the neighborhood shining [a laser] at an airplane…tell them it’s dangerous, don’t do that. And if that’s not effective, report them to the local authorities.”

“I’m sure it’s mostly otherwise law-abiding citizens near airports who are playing with their new laser toy,” said Carr. “They probably have no idea of the danger to passengers and crew they’re causing by pointing at an aircraft taking off or landing.”  

However, there is no coordinated public education campaign now in place, Carr said, urging the FAA and the handheld laser industry to develop one and focus it on populations living near airports. He also recommended that flightcrews and managers read the 2009 FAA publication “Laser Hazards in Navigable Airspace,” which contains suggestions for minimizing a laser attack. The issue is also covered in Laser Hazards in Navigable Airspace,” which contains suggestions for minimizing a laser attack. The issue is also covered in FAA Advisory Circular 70-2, which contains reporting requirements and coordinating information.

For more information on this issue, contact NBAA’s Doug Carr at