The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), in collaboration with the FBI and the FAA, on February 11 launched a 12-city public awareness campaign about the safety issues surrounding laser attacks on aircraft cockpits. Reports of aircraft laser illuminations in the U.S. have increased sharply over the past few years–to 3,960 last year from 2,836 in 2010.
Israeli defense specialist Rafael (Booth N51) has unveiled a new system to tackle short-range mortar and rocket threats, and close-in air threats such as UAVs. Rather than employing a projectile to destroy incoming threats, the new Iron Beam system uses a high-energy laser (HEL).
MBDA Germany is claiming a world’s first in the development of high-energy laser weapons after coupling together four commercially available 10kW-industrial lasers to achieve a 40kW weapon that can intercept and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM). Small aerial vehicles, such as UAVs, are also on MBDA’s target list, but the company says power supply challenges still preclude adding lasers to aircraft for defensive purposes.
Night Flight Concepts (Booth No. 3428) has announced an online course to educate flight crews about the growing threat from laser strikes. According to the FAA, the number of laser strikes directed at aircraft cockpits continues to increase, causing loss of situational awareness, flash blindness and retinal damage.
A new Article 222 of UK Air Navigation Order 2009 makes it illegal “to shine any light at any aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the aircraft.” The country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) hopes the article, coupled with new technology used by police air support units, will increase conviction rates.
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.
The House of Representatives passed legislation that aims to punish anyone convicted of knowingly pointing a laser at an aircraft with a maximum of five years in prison. Introduced by Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), the bill stems from a number of cases over the past few years where pilots have reported lasers being shone in the cockpit, causing temporary loss of vision. To date, no accidents have resulted from laser pointing.
The Senate at press time was considering a bill that imposes a $250,000 fine and a possible prison term of up to five years for people who point lasers at aircraft. The legislation is an outgrowth of a number of recent incidents. Laser beams can temporarily blind pilots and, in some reported cases, cause permanent eye damage. The bill passed in the House last month.