Numbers released on May 15 by the FAA dramatize growing concerns over increasing numbers of people who continue to shine laser pointers at passing aircraft. While relatively harmless in initial appearance, laser beams from even handheld pointers have temporarily blinded pilots and forced crewmembers to take evasive action.
The FAA began tracking these incidents in 2005 when 283 were recorded. By 2008 the number had climbed to 913 and by 2010, 2,836 laser-pointer incidents were recorded. The data released last week showed 3,592 such events in 2011, a 26-percent increase over the previous year.
Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has directed the FAA, in cooperation with the Department of Justice, to step up enforcement action against anyone caught shining a laser at an airplane. "We will pursue the toughest penalties against anyone caught putting the safety of the flying public at risk," he said.
The FAA has already initiated enforcement action against 28 individuals since June 2011 and opened dozens more investigations. The current maximum penalty for a single laser incident is an $11,000 fine, although one individual was fined nearly $31,000 for repeated violations.
Anyone caught in a laser incident, who also carries an airmen's certificate, may also face revocation of his or her certificate, in addition to financial penalties.