The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the expansion of a trial program it started earlier this year with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) to deter people from pointing at aircraft with lasers, which can temporarily blind pilots. In a June 3 announcement, the FBI said it will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who intentionally points a laser at an aircraft. The reward is available for 90 days in all 56 FBI field offices.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 makes it a federal crime to knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine. Violators may also be subject to state law.
The FBI, with ALPA and the Federal Aviation Administration, launched the program in February at 12 FBI field offices with numerous reports of people “lasing” aircraft with handheld devices. The program sought to raise public awareness about the dangers of laser pointing through a series of public service announcements, billboards and outreach to local media. The number of reported laser incidents declined by 19 percent in the major metropolitan areas of the 12 field offices, the FBI said.
“The initial phase resulted in an immediate decrease in the number of reported incidents, which is a clear example of the campaign’s effectiveness,” said ALPA first vice president Sean Cassidy, an Alaska Airlines pilot. “We look forward to working with the FBI once again to reinforce the fact that aiming a laser at an aircraft is not a harmless prank.” ALPA held a conference on the growing threat from lasers in October 2011.
The agency said it is extending the public outreach program to all 50 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. “Although our previous efforts to raise public awareness have shown early signs of success in reducing the number of laser attacks in those 12 cities, the laser threat remains a problem on a much larger scale,” said Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division. “We hope to build on our success through this national campaign in an effort to reduce the overall threat.”
Since the FBI and the FAA began tracking laser incidents in 2005, there has been a 1,100-percent increase in the number of incidents, the FBI said. Last year, authorities received 3,960 reports of laser strikes against aircraft. Texas accounted for 418 of those, including 126 in Houston. Portland was the only city that ranked higher with 139 laser incidents.
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous and irresponsible it is to point a laser at an aircraft,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We know that targeted enforcement has succeeded in driving down laser incidents in a number of cities, and we’ll continue to partner with law enforcement to address this problem nationwide.”