Airport Laser Incidents Are a New Epidemic: Officials

Pilots are hampered by lasers an average of once a day at tri-state area airports, law enforcement authorities say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Reports of laser attacks on everything from commercial jetliners to helicopters are at epidemic levels, averaging ten a day across the U.S. and once a day at tri-state airports, authorities say. Brian Thompson explains what's being done to stop laser attacks. (Published Thursday, Sep 20, 2012)

    Reports of laser attacks on everything from commercial jet liners to helicopters are at epidemic levels, averaging 10 a day across the U.S. and once a day at tri-state airports, federal and local law enforcement officials say.

    The FBI, Federal Aviation Administration, Port Authority, New Jersey State Police and Coast Guard issued an appeal to the public Wednesday to help them identify and catch the people who are putting thousands of airline passengers at risk each day.

    "The feeling you have is a burning sensation in your eyes," said commercial pilot Robert Hamilton, who also works on this issue with the Airline Pilots Association.

    Hamilton said he has been "lased" several times in his 10-year commercial career.

    Coast Guard Search and Rescue Pilot Lt. Christopher Hooper has experienced it, too.

    Hooper said that when there is a serious lasing incident involving both pilot and co-pilot, the rescue helicopter crew is under orders to immediately return to ground, putting the lives of those who are in distress at greater risk.

    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is sending its police officers to schools near airports to teach kids how dangerous it is to take a simple laser and point it at an airplane, according to Superintendent Michael Fedorko.

    The FBI, meanwhile, is not merely concerned about children with lasers. The FBI is worried about adults who point lasers at airplanes, and also a potential terrorist attacks.

    "We have not seen an instance where there has been a concerted effort among several people to try to bring down an airplane -- yet," said FBI Agent Michael Ward, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Jersey office.
     
    With the number of attacks nationwide having doubled from 2010 to 2011, law enforcement is taking the issue seriously when they catch an offender.

    "There are several families across the country today who are facing civil penalties in the range of up to $11,000," said Carlos Garcia, a special agent with the FAA, in describing what happens when a juvenile is caught.

    Attacks have become so frequent and apprehensions are so rare, however, law enforcement officials say they need the public's help to report when they see someone pointing a laser of any type at an airplane.