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FBI launches new initiative to combat laser strikes on aircraft

FBI announces new initiative to combat laser strikes on aircraft that can injure pilots and crew.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The FBI has launched a crackdown aimed at those who point lasers at aircraft.

Incidents around LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports were up 39 percent in 2013 from the previous year with a total of 99 events, according to the bureau.

Many of the New York laser incidents have injured pilots and their crews. The latest was reported Dec. 26 by a JetBlue pilot on approach to JFK. The pilot experienced blurry vision for more than a week after being temporarily blinded by a laser. The FBI reports that there were seven incidents in the last week of 2013 alone.

“Laser incidents are often viewed as harmless acts; this couldn’t be further from the truth,” Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said. “A laser pointed at a plane’s cockpit could blind a pilot and down an aircraft.”

To combat the dangerous rise, the FBI is offering $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft. The program was launched in 12 cities where the problem is most prevalent, including New York, for a two-month period.

“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law,” Ron Hasko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said. “It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions.”

The bureau says that when aimed at an airplane from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots. Those who experienced an attack have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch-black car at night.

As of December 2013, the FAA has documented at least 35 incidents in which pilots required medical attention after a laser strike. Interfering with the operation of an aircraft has been a federal crime, but the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 made it a federal felony to knowingly point the beam of a laser at an aircraft.

The FBI said a 23-year-old California man was sentenced to 21 months in prison for aiming a pointer at a helicopter. Court records showed the man deliberately tracked and struck the aircraft.

“We are asking anyone who knows anything about the recent spate of incidents to pick up the phone and call the FBI for the safety of all who fly,” Venizelos said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at 212-384-1000.

Reach Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718)260-4538.

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