Laser attacks on planes continue got grow.

Despite increased penalties for anyone caught doing it, the number of dangerous laser assaults on aircraft cockpits continues to grow at an alarming rate.


The Federal Aviation Administration says there were 2,733 laser strikes through Oct. 13. The pace threatens to eclipse the 2,836 incidents for all of last year. It’s approaching 10 times the 300 reported in 2005.

The rising number prompted the FAA in June to impose a civil fine of up to $11,000 for “interfering” with a crew by shining a laser into a cockpit. The fines are easier to pursue than federal criminal sanctions of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for “incapacitating” a crewmember.

Arrests are rare for people who can easily shine a hand-held laser into a cockpit and temporarily blind a pilot. The airline industry and pilots unions will confer with police and prosecutors Thursday in Washington to discuss what else can be done to thwart attacks.

“Shining a laser at a plane and its pilots is very dangerous,” says FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, a 25-year pilot. “You wouldn’t want a pilot incapacitated for any reason.”

Many attacks occur near airports when planes take off or land.

Philadelphia has had the most laser strikes this year with 93.

Prosecutions have been rare. Finding culprits can be difficult because commercial jetliner pilots taking off or landing have trouble describing a laser’s source for authorities on the ground.

Dana Christian Welch of California was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2009 in what the FBI says was the first U.S. trial conviction on federal charges against pointing a laser at a plane.

He was found guilty of interfering with pilots by pointing a green laser at a United Airlines jet and an Alaska Airlines jet preparing to land at John Wayne Airport in Orange County in May 2008.

The United Airlines pilot told investigators it was “the worst possible time to be distracted.” The Alaska Airlines pilot complained that his eyes stung the rest of the night.

Passenger airlines aren’t the only targets:

•Los Angeles prosecutors charged the grandson of the late actor Clark Gable, Clark James Gable, 23, with three felony counts for allegedly pointing a laser at a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter flying July 28 above Hollywood Boulevard. He pleaded not guilty.

•On July 6, Phoenix police charged Conrad Rzewski, 24, with two counts of felony endangerment for allegedly pointing a laser at their helicopter with two officers aboard. “Depending on the type of laser, it can cause eye damage,” Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson says. “I think most of the offenders … just don’t realize how dangerous it can be.”

Photo credit: Fly Away

Via USA Today