BOSTON (CBS) – It’s a danger in the sky that comes from down below. More pilots report they are getting zapped with lasers as they try to land. This creates a serious risk for the crew, passengers, and residents who live near the airport.
Veteran helicopter pilot John McKenna was over Quincy near an approach to Logan Airport the first time he got hit with a laser. “All of a sudden the whole aircraft just lit up,” he recalled.
McKenna added, “It causes snow blindness . . . it’s disconcerting and it would affect your ability to make precision movements if you are down low to the ground, particularly landing.”
WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.
The I-Team found more aircraft in Massachusetts getting hit by lasers. For example, last April an Airbus over Milford was zapped. In May, a 737 closer to Boston was hit. And in December, a DC-10, also near Boston, was targeted.
In fact, the I-Team found that there were 15 reported laser strikes at Logan Airport last year. That’s up from 13 in 2009 and just 6 in 2008.
Nationally 2,836 planes were hit with lasers, up from 1,527 in 2009.
Most of us think of a laser as a narrow beam of light, but it changes the minute it hits a cockpit.
David Price, Associate Dean of Aviation at Bridgewater State University, said the light bounces off all the instruments in a cockpit. “It’s almost an instantaneous reflection off a whole bunch of different surfaces, and the pilot would have no where to hide, except to close their eyes, hopefully in time.”
Green lasers are more powerful and are causing a much bigger problem than red lasers. The green lasers are now very easy to get on the Internet.
They’re often used like toys, either to pop balloons or to create a light saber outside on a foggy night.
This isn’t about terrorism, according to Price. He believes planes are hit either because people don’t realize what they’re doing, or because they’re stupid pranksters.
Regardless of the intent, Doctor Matt Gardiner of the Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary says the consequences to a pilot’s vision are serious. “Any laser that would be coming off the ground, even briefly, just shining in the eye wouldn’t cause any damage, but would perhaps cause some glare or temporarily blind them such that they would be unable to perform their duties in the cabin,” he explained.
Stopping laser attacks is tough. Most aviation security measures focus on the airport itself and lasers aren’t bound by geography.
Price added, “We’ve already quarantined airports with safety fences in the post 9/11 world where it’s harder to get on the airport itself, but that doesn’t matter for a laser pointer, because we can’t expand the airport area to be 10-15 miles because its into the city or town the airport is in.”
Just last week a 14 year old boy was arrested near the Los Angeles airport for shining a laser into the cockpit of a jet coming in a for a landing.
The Senate just passed an amendment to make this a federal crime, punishable with fines and up to five years in jail.
The airports with the highest number of strikes last year are Los Angeles (102), Chicago (98), and Phoenix (80).