The number of reported incidents involving aiming of lasers at U.S. airplanes hit a record in 2021, according to a federal government report, which also said regulators should do more to address the problem.
The Government Accountability Office said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should strengthen its efforts to address the practice that regulators say can pose a serious safety issue. Reported laser incidents rose 42% in 2021 to 9,273.
Intentionally aiming lasers at aircraft poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. “Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers,” the FAA said.
The FAA asks pilots to complete laser pointing incident questionnaires upon landing. But GAO said “FAA received responses for about 12% of the 8,221 laser incidents that occurred over a recent one-year period.”
The FAA said on Thursday that in order to reduce attacks, “the agency conducts outreach to educate the public about the hazards of lasers aimed at aircraft.”
The agency noted it can issue fines of up to $11,000 per violation and $30,800 for multiple laser incidents. The agency said it issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021.
The FAA developed a software visualization tool “that shows laser-strike data from 2010 to 2021 and highlights trends by geographic area, per capita data, time of day and year.”
The FAA said it “also works closely with other federal agencies and state and local governments to report and investigate incidents, help apprehend suspects, and advocate for the prosecution of offenders.”
The GAO said FAA “does not consistently share collected information with law enforcement” and noted the FAA, FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over lasers, were in an interagency group to address laser safety concerns until its dissolution in 2015.
GAO said the Biden administration should consider re-establishing this group.
The FAA noted a 36-year-old Philadelphia man was sentenced in April to one year in prison for shining a laser pointer into a Philadelphia Police helicopter.
A Mississippi man was sentenced to probation in April after pleading guilty to aiming a laser pointer at aircraft following reports that numerous planes flying into Memphis were being struck. The FBI said there were 49 green-laser strikes on aircraft, mainly FedEx Corp. planes, between January and July 2021.
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