February 4, 2011

The U.S. Senate last week approved an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that would make aiming laser pointers at aircraft a federal crime. The measure passed by a vote of 96-1 on February 3, as the Senate continues to debating approval of long-awaited reauthorization legislation.

The amendment comes on the heels of an FAA report that cited incidents of pointer-type lasers aimed at aircraft almost doubled in 2010 from the previous year to more than 2,800, with business-type aircraft accounting for an estimated 25 percent of the incidents involved.

The January 19 report didn’t identify targeted flights by mission, but an NBAA- requested analysis showed that about 700 of the 2,836 reports came from pilots of twin- engine piston, turboprop, helicopter or turbine fixed wing aircraft, the most common aircraft types used in business flying.

Even low-power pointer-type lasers can cause glare, flash-blindness or afterimages and cause “some degree of operational difficulty” in landing, a 2004 FAA report concluded. Business aircraft with slower approach speeds than airliners are more susceptible to targeted laser blasts.