WASHINGTON -- Last year alone, more than 100 incidents occurred at Los Angeles International Airport in which the safety of planes was put at risk by people pointing at them with lasers, and nearly as many incidents took place at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, federal officials said Wednesday.
Overall, the number of incidents nationally in which people pointed lasers at planes and helicopters nearly doubled last year, from 1,527 incidents in 2009 to 2,836 incidents in 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Many of the incidents involve airliners in the midst of takeoffs or landings, critical phases of flight in which pilots need to be at their most alert. Pointing lasers at cockpits can temporarily blind pilots or even permanently damage their eyesight. In some instances, pilots have had to relinquish control of their aircraft to another pilot.Salt Lake City International Airport ranked 14th and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas ranked fifth in the Federal Aviation Administration’s national report of incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft.
The FAA says Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of incidents, with 108. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was next, with 98, followed by Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and San Jose, Calif., both with 80.
McCarran in Las Vegas had 72 laser pointer reports. Salt Lake City International Airport was tied for 14th with 36.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the laser incidents "an unacceptable risk to passenger safety."
FAA began keeping track of the incidents about five years ago, as Internet sales of new, more powerful hand-held lasers began to increase. There were about 300 incidents reported in 2005.
The lasers are many times more powerful than the laser pointers typically used by lecturers. Stargazers use them at night to point to celestial objects. The introduction of green lasers, which are more powerful and more easily seen than red lasers, has also fueled sales.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt urged pilots to immediately report laser incidents to air traffic controllers, who can then report the incidents to police. It's a violation of federal law to shine a laser at an aircraft. Some cities and states also have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft.
In 2009, an Orange, Calif., man was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for aiming a laser at two Boeing jets as the passenger planes were about to land at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. A Parsippany, N.J., man received two years' probation in 2006 after admitting to shining a laser at a plane approaching Teterboro Airport that temporarily blinded the two pilots.