Bill aims to protect pilots from laser pointers

Washington – People caught aiming laser pointers at airplanes could face fines and up to five years of jail time, according to a bill (H.R. 386) (.pdf file) passed Feb. 28 by the House.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration report (.pdf file), when pointed at an airplane, the brilliant light from laser pointers can distract or harm a pilot. Laser beams that flash directly in a person’s eye can cause persistent pain, eye spasms and spots in vision.

On Feb. 4, the Senate approved an amendment (Sec. 733) in the FAA reauthorization bill (.pdf file) that makes the act of aiming laser pointers at airplanes a federal crime and imposes the same penalties.

A joint committee is expected to convene to agree on a common format before the legislation goes to President Barack Obama.

FAA reported that in 2010, incidents involving laser pointers and aircraft increased to 2,800 – the highest number since the agency started tracking incidents in 2005. In 2009, 1,527 incidents were recorded.

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