FAA: $11,000 fine for anyone caught pointing lasers at aircraft

FAA says 1,100 laser pointing incidents have occurred already this year

Looking to address what has become an all-too-common problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said it will begin to impose civil penalties, or fines of $11,000 for anyone who points a laser at the cockpit of an aircraft.

"We are using an interpretation of a long-standing aviation regulation to impose these penalties. Usually when people think of interfering with a flight crew, they think of a disruption on the airplane itself. But pointing a laser at an aircraft is interfering with a flight crew. It interferes with their ability to fly the plane and is every bit as serious, " said FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt.  "This is a very serious problem. Lasers today are very strong and can hit aircraft at higher altitudes than before. We now have green laser devices widely available in the marketplace that are stronger and more readily seen than the red lasers used in pointers."

More: FAA says incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft doubled in 2010

The FAA released what it called a  legal interpretation, which finds that directing a laser beam into an aircraft cockpit could interfere with a flight crew performing its duties while operating an aircraft, a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. In the past, the FAA has taken enforcement action under this regulation against passengers physically on-board an aircraft who interfere with crewmembers.

The FAA said that this year alone pilots have reported more than 1,100 incidents nationwide of lasers being pointed at aircraft. Laser event reports have steadily increased since the FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots. Reports rose from nearly 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.

In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of laser events in the country for an individual airport with 102 reports, and the greater Los Angeles area tallied nearly twice that number, with 201 reports. Chicago O'Hare International Airport was a close second, with 98 reports, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for the third highest number of laser events for the year with 80 each, the FAA stated.

So far this year, the Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth areas each have recorded more than 45 laser events. The Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston areas each have recorded more than 30 laser events. Babbitt said the FAA has seen some progress in places like Chicago, where the number of laser events has decreased compared to last year.

This year, Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth have seen the greatest number of laser events, with more than 45 each so far. And Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston each have recorded more than 30 laser events.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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