September 23, 2011

Whitehouse Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Prohibit the Use of Laser Pointers to Target Aircraft

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has introduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on individuals who shine laser pointers at aircraft – an action that can temporarily blind pilots and put passengers at risk.  The legislation, which is cosponsored by Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), 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.

“Aiming the beam of a laser at an aircraft puts passengers and crew in danger,” said Whitehouse.  “With these incidents occurring increasingly often, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.”

“This bipartisan effort is a simple solution to a life-threatening game of targeting airplanes with lasers, which continues to be on the rise,” Senator Kirk said. “I hope this bill 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.

Earlier this year Whitehouse offered this legislation as an amendment to the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act.  The bipartisan amendment passed the Senate by a 96-1 vote and a similar measure passed the House without controversy.  The larger bill has been held up, prompting Whitehouse to introduce the bill as a stand-alone measure.


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