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FAA: More lasers being pointed at cockpits

December 10, 2010 12:58:51 AM PST
The number of incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft cockpits appears to be getting worse. The Federal Aviation Administration reported that there have been 2,200 cases this year compared to about 300 in 2005.

While there have been no crashes, the intense light has distracted and temporarily blinded pilots and caused some to relinquish control to their co-pilots or abort landings, in some cases. Such interference with an aircraft is a federal crime.

There are red, blue and violet lasers as well, but the green is the most visible against a night sky. The green lasers are also 35 times brighter than equivalently powered red lasers because humans are much more sensitive to green light, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The rise in incidents has coincided with a growing hobbyist market for handheld lasers that are far more powerful - and potentially dangerous - than the typical laser pointer. At the same time prices have dropped. Lasers that once cost more than $1,000 can now be bought online for a few hundred dollars or less.

"It sounds silly, but this is a serious problem," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt wrote Wednesday in a post on a Transportation Department blog.

"We know that laser pointers are an important tool for astronomers and casual stargazers," Babbitt wrote. "But we just can't stress enough the importance of being careful when you are shining them into the night sky."

Last September, a Riverside man was arrested for pointing a laser at a television helicopter.

Although the problem is widespread, California, Texas, and Florida have recorded the most incidents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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