Pilots have many things to be concerned with when flying an aircraft. A new concern that has cropped up in recent years is dealing with people who point laser pointers at aircraft. One such incident occurred in New York in March of 2015. On March 16, 2015 the Federal Bureau of Investigations arrested 54-year old Elehecer Balaguer for pointing a laser pointer at several aircraft near LaGuardia Airport.
A week earlier, on March 9, 2015, Balaguer allegedly pointed a laser at three commercial flights arriving or departing from LaGuardia. The pilots “were struck in the eyes with a bright green beam, causing the pilots to lose focus temporarily and, in two instances, briefly blinding the pilots.” Because of the potential danger, an air traffic controller redirected incoming and departing planes to another runway. The pilots all stated the beams originated from the Bronx.
When the New York Police Department's Aviation Unit went to investigate the case, flying a helicopter over to the area where the pilots said the beam hit them, the officers were also struck with a green laser beam. Both pilots lost sight temporarily. The pilots were able to discover the origin of the beam, a second floor apartment in the Bronx. When police responded to the apartment, they found Balaguer and some others. The police also found a laser pointer on the top of a refrigerator. The police questioned Balaguer who admitted to owning the laser pointer. Though at the time he said he didn't know who had been pointing a beam at aircraft, he would reverse this statement a few days later, admitting that he was the one had pointed the laser pointer at the aircraft.
Balaguer was charged with one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. The maximum sentence for the charge is 5 years in jail. In May of 2016, Balaguer pleaded guilty to the charge.
Laser pointers being aimed at airplanes has become an increasing problem in recent years. In 2015, the number of laser pointer incidents reported by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) almost doubled, from 3,894 incidents in 2014, to 7,703 incidents in 2015. This is significantly up from 2004, where only 46 incidents were reported by the FAA. The number of incidents per day has also doubled in the last year, from 10.7 in 2014 to 21.1 in 2015. This is also significantly up from 2004 where only 0.1 incidents per day were reported.
The United States is also not the only country that has dealt with these kinds of incidents. The Daily Mail reports that in the United Kingdom, the Civil Aviation Authority reported that between 2009 and June of 2015, there were “more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country.”
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. One would hope that the number of these types of incidents will decrease in the coming years. However, the statistics are showing that these incidents are only increasing, so it looks like aircraft pilots will have one more thing to worry about when flying.