Advisory circular addresses laser threat

 - December 7, 2007, 8:29 AM

In response to numerous reports of lasers being pointed at aircraft, the FAA last month issued advisory circular (AC) 70-2 requesting all aircrews to report immediately incidents of unauthorized laser illumination to the appropriate ATC facility. The AC also requires air traffic controllers to notify pilots immediately about laser events.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced the new AC during a simulator demonstration of the dangers shining lasers into cockpits pose to pilots at the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City on January 12. The DOT said that between December 23 and January 12 there were 31 reported laser incidents involving aircraft.

“Shining these lasers at an airplane is not a harmless prank,” said Mineta. “It is stupid and dangerous. You are putting other people at risk, and law enforcement authorities are going to seek you out, and if they catch you, they are going to prosecute you.”

Despite earlier speculation that the laser incidents were acts of terrorism, Mineta noted there are no indications that those shining lasers at airplanes are anything other than careless people using commercially available lasers in a reckless and illegal manner.

When the FAA gets a report of a laser event, it will notify the appropriate law enforcement agencies through the Domestic Events Network, providing police timely and detailed information to help identify and prosecute those who are shining lasers at airplanes.

The circular strongly advises pilots who have a laser pointed at them to avoid direct eye contact given the health and safety risks some types of lasers pose. The devices can be purchased commercially for as little as $119 and can project a beam that can be seen up to 25,000 feet away.

The DOT said it will work with the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and others to improve product labeling and better educate the public.

FAA research has shown that laser illuminations can temporarily disorient or disable a pilot during critical stages of flight such as landing or takeoff, and in some cases may cause permanent damage. However, given the relatively small number of incidents, the DOT secretary added, there is no need to require new equipment for aircraft and aircrew at this time.

Laser-based Warnings
Ironically, one day after the FAA issued the advisory circular, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) muddied the waters with the announcement that it was testing a system to beam red and green lasers at aircraft in the Washington, D.C. area as a warning when they enter restricted airspace.

But Norad said its warning system uses a red, red, green sequence and appears as wide beams that pose no harm and will not distract pilots. Norad tested its system in late December and early last month on military aircraft flying in Washington-area airspace.

Norad wants to use its visual warning system for all aircraft deviating into restricted airspace because it is a safer way to signal pilots than the current method
of dropping flares.

Meanwhile, President Bush has nominated federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security, replacing Tom Ridge. Previously, the jurist was a federal prosecutor who headed the Justice Department’s criminal division, where he crafted the Bush Administration’s legal strategy for the war on terror.