Federal agencies Hazard communication Air Transportation

FAA asks laser manufacturers to warn consumers of potential danger to planes


Photo: Rathke/iStockphoto

Washington — Citing a growing trend of people pointing lasers at airplanes, the Federal Aviation Administration is calling for product labels warning consumers that the safety of flight crews and passengers is being put at risk.

In a letter dated Feb. 9, FAA acting administrator Billy Nolen reminds laser manufacturers and distributors that pointing a laser at aircraft is a threat to aviation safety and a federal crime. An agency video says the offense may result in fines of up to $250,000 or jail time.

FAA data shows that the act – which can distract or temporarily blind pilots – is more problematic than ever. Last year, the agency reported almost 9,500 laser-strike incidents, slightly fewer than the all-time high of 9,723 recorded the year before. The 2021 total represents a 41.9% spike from 2020 and is well above the 384 incidents reported in 2006 (the first year for which data is available).

Factors behind the surge include the availability of inexpensive laser devices, a growth in lasers being given as gifts and stronger power levels that allow lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes.

“Lasers may seem like just a toy, office tool or game for most, but they can incapacitate pilots, putting thousands of passengers at risk every year,” the letter states. “We need your help to combat this serious issue. The FAA requests that you add a warning label to your packaging to make consumers aware of the safety risks and federal laws when using lasers.”

For companies that already include a warning, Nolan asks them to “increase the warning’s prominence.”

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