Any idiot who deliberately points a high-powered laser at an airplane or helicopter is breaking the law. Due to the potentially deadly consequences of temporarily blinding a pilot during the critical phases of takeoff or landing, those guilty of these crimes should face mandatory prison time.
Laser "pranking" at planes is very dangerous. Last year, there were 2,836 such incidents in the U.S. That's a substantial increase from the 1,527 incidents reported in 2009. Pilots are being urged to immediately report laser attacks to air traffic controllers so police can be alerted quickly. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is absolutely right when he calls these attacks "an unacceptable risk to passenger safety."
Salt Lake City International Airport, by the way, reported 36 incidents of laser attacks last year. That number was tied for 14th most in the nation. The airport with the most laser attacks is Los Angeles International Airport, which reported 108 in 2009.
These are not the lasers a teacher uses in a classroom. These are high-powered hand-held lasers used to point out stars and planets. Recently, green lasers have become more popular than red lasers.
Green lasers are more powerful, and a bigger threat to pilots. The lasers can harm eyes and temporarily blind pilots. Some pilots have had to hand over control to another pilot due to a laser attack.
Undoubtedly some of these laser attacks are unintentional, with inconsiderate star gazers not being aware of their proximity to aircraft. Such an incident can allow a lighter sentence. But most attacks near airports are likely malicious persons deliberately wanting to surprise pilots and put them and passengers at risk.
Zero tolerance for such criminal acts is the best solution. In 2009, a man in Orange County, Calif., received a prison term for a deliberate laser attack. Due to the increasing numbers of attacks, it appears more similar punishments are needed.