February 2, 2011

Senators Push for Legislation to Criminalize the Use of Laser Pointers to Target Aircraft

Washington, DC – As the Senate takes up the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill this week, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced an amendment to crack down on individuals who shine laser pointers at aircraft – an action which can temporarily blind pilots and put passengers at risk. The bipartisan amendment, which is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) would make it a crime to knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, and subject violators to fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years. The bill exempts those using lasers for legitimate aviation purposes such as research and development, training, or emergency signaling.

“Shining lasers at airplanes is not a game and places passengers and crew at risk,” said Whitehouse. “With the increasing occurrence of these types of incidents, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.

“As we work towards modernizing our nation’s aviation industry, passenger safety must remain a top concern. At O’Hare airport in Chicago, laser incidents have been on the rise with nearly 100 reports last year alone.” Durbin said. “Airlines, airports and law enforcement all agree: we must do all that we can to prevent lasers from being pointed at aircraft.”

“This bipartisan effort is a simple solution to a life-threatening game of targeting airplanes with lasers, which continues to be on the rise,” said Kirk. “I hope this amendment serves as a wake-up call to violators and curbs this dangerous practice. “

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of reports from lasers being pointed at airplanes nearly doubled in 2010 – to more than 2,800. In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport had the highest number of laser events of any individual airport with 102 reports. Theodore Francis Green Airport in Warwick, RI had 12 incidents during the last year. The increase in incidents appears to be caused by the increasing availability of new, high-powered laser devices.

The amendment is supported by the Air Line Pilots Association, National Association of Police Organizations, and The Rhode Island Pilots Association. Last month, companion bipartisan legislation sponsored by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) was favorably reported by the House Judiciary Committee.


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