Laser pen attacks on aircraft continue to cause safety concerns
There has been an issue for some years, of highly irresponsible use of laser pointers, with them being shone at planes approaching airports. This can have the effect of temporarily damaging the vision of the pilots, which is highly unsafe, and could even cause a crash – especially if the plane is below 1,000 feet and the pilot’s vision is damaged for over a minute. The guidance from BALPA etc is perhaps to switch to autopilot, maybe if necessary do a go-around, or even switch to a different runway or different airport. Recent figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show there were 284 incidents in the 3 months from February to March 2015. The highest number of laser incidents during this time was at Heathrow, with 34. Then London City airport 21, Birmingham 18, Leeds-Bradford 15, Manchester 12, and Newcastle 10, Glasgow and Gatwick. The total number of laser attacks in the UK in 2014 was 1,400 that were reported to the CAA in 2014 – up by 3.5% from 2013. There were also another 312 attacks involved British aircraft landing at or taking off from airports overseas. Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight is a criminal offence under UK law and if convicted, offenders can face a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. BALPA wants mandatory prison terms for all offenders. The sale of powerful lasers is restricted in Britain but they can be bought online.
Newcastle Airport had 10 laser pen attacks in first quarter of 2015, new figures have shown
BY SONIA SHARMA , DAVID OTTEWELL
Police have warned of the dangers of shining laser pens at aircraft after new figures show there were 10 attacks at Newcastle Airport in the first three months of this year.
Shining a laser at a plane became a specific criminal offence in 2010 in response to a growing number of incidents.
Air watchdogs warned at the time that lights from laser pointers could pose a serious safety risk, especially during take-off or landing.
Now new figures from the Civil Aviation Authority have revealed there were 10 incidents at or near Newcastle Airport during the first quarter of 2015.
There were seven in January, one in February and two in March.
A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight is a serious risk to the safety of passengers and crew, as well as people living close to airports.
“During critical phases of flight, such as take-off and landing, pilots need to employ maximum concentration. Being dazzled and temporarily blinded by an intense light could potentially lead to flight crew losing control of the aircraft.
“Pointing a laser at an aircraft is now a specific criminal offence and the police are becoming very good at catching the perpetrators. We strongly urge anyone who observes a laser being used at night in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately.”
Northumbria Police says the force will continue to target offenders caught carrying out these activities.
Chief Inspector John Heckels said: “Pointing laser pens at aircraft may seem harmless but it has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that this type of behaviour can put lives at risk and those caught in the act will be arrested and put before the courts.
“We will continue to work with our partners at Newcastle International Airport to target offenders and reduce the number of incidents in our region.”
Across the country there were a total of 284 laser incidents in the three-month period – or three a day, on average.
Heathrow had the most with 34 attacks, followed by London City airport with 21, Birmingham with 18, Leeds-Bradford had 15 and Manchester International was fifth on the list with 12 incidents.
Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight is a criminal offence under UK law and if convicted, offenders can face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Laser attacks on pilots on the rise
By Phil Davies (Travel Weekly)
As many as four pilots a day are at risk of being dazzled or blinded on the approach to UK airports by people on the ground using powerful lasers to shine at aircraft cockpits.
More than 1,400 laser incidents were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority last year – up by 3.5% in 12 months.
This was the first annual increase in attacks in three years. A laser shone into a pilot’s eyes on approach to an airport could bring down an aircraft, the CAA warned.
Heathrow had the most incidents, followed by Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Gatwick and Glasgow, the Times reported.
A further 312 attacks involved British aircraft landing at or taking off from airports overseas, figures show.
“An aircraft on final approach at 1,000ft has around one minute before it reaches the threshold of the runway and touches down,” the regulator said.
“A pilot dazzled by a laser can be blinded for up to ten seconds followed by over a minute of impaired vision. The risks to passengers and crew are all too obvious.”
CAA guidance suggests that any pilot in a laser incident should see a specialist aeromedical doctor before flying again.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association said that the strength of laser pens had increased in recent years, posing additional risks to pilots. It wants mandatory prison terms for all offenders.
The sale of powerful lasers is restricted in Britain but they can be bought online.
UK: 1,442 laser incidents in 2014; up 3.4% over 2013
Feb 03 2015 (Laser pointersafety.com)
There were 1,442 laser-aircraft incidents reported to the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority in 2014. This is a 3.4% increase over the 2013 figure of 1,394 reported laser incidents.
Additionally, there were 312 laser incidents that occurred outside the U.K. to U.K. operators.
In 2014, the top four most frequent incident locations were London/Heathrow (168), Manchester International (107), Birmingham (92), and Leeds Bradford (81). London/Gatwick and Glasgow were tied for fifth place, each with 64 reported incidents.
CAA published a PDF report with more detailed figures, including a monthly breakdown of the most frequent laser incident locations in 2014, and monthly & yearly totals for 2009 through 2014, and overseas (non-U.K.) incidents occurring to U.K. operators.
From the CAA PDF report dated February 2 2015. Note: There is a discrepancy where one table lists a total of 1,440 incidents in 2014 while another lists a total of 1,442. We have used the larger figure in this story.
Additional charts are on the page listing 2014 incident statistics, and the page with 2004-2014 historical data.
Norway: 100 aircraft incidents one reason for proposal to limit pointers to 1 mW
Aug 13 2014 (Laser pointer safety.com)
On May 16 2014, the Norwegian Ministry of Health proposed to ban the sale and use of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt without approval from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. The reason given was that “the current approval system, where it is permitted to use and possession of laser pointers in private rooms without approval, has not proved sufficient to prevent potentially dangerous use of laser pointers.”
The ministry received 18 official comments by the August 8 submission deadline. According to Dagens Medisin, “none of the answers are critical [of] mitigation in the use of laser pointers.”
The ban was supported by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), the Police Directorate and the Customs and Excise department.
The CAA said that there were around 100 incidents each year where lasers were pointed at aircraft in Norway.
If the measure is enacted, it will take effect beginning in 2015.
UK: 1300+ laser incidents in 2013
Aug 19 2014 (Laser pointer safety.com)
The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority reported “more than 1,300 reports” of laser illuminations of aircraft “across the UK” in 2013, according to an August 18 2014 story in the Surrey Mirror.
The newspaper also reported that in the 12 months between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 31 reports of aircraft being illuminated as they approached Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London.
Laser strikes have also increased on rescue helicopters flying out of Redhill Aerodrome, Surrey, a few miles north of Gatwick. A tactical flight officer was quoted as saying “I’ve had to break away from a task because of being lasered and it’s not because we’re trying to catch a bad guy, it’s because we’re trying to find people potentially in danger…. There are certain elements of society that might be trying to harm us or put us off being in a certain location.”
Police inspector Mark Callaghan told the Mirror that there have been a number of jail terms for perpetrators, but that “Hand-held lasers are easily obtained over the internet or from market stalls and street vendors abroad. The warning labels on these are misleading and they are more powerful than advertised.”
And more stories on laser attacks on planes at
The CAA website:
Their main briefing on laser attack is at http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/SafetyNotice2012005..pdf
Exposure to Lasers – A Self Assessment Tool for Pilots. Guidance on what to do following a laser attack
Laser attacks, where aircraft are targeted from the ground, represent a major global problem for the aviation industry and the number of incidents has increased rapidly since 2008. These can often involve passenger jets on the final approach to an airport or helicopters that are hovering.
The CAA has developed a self-assessment tool for pilots that have been involved in a laser attack which can help determine whether they have sustained an eye injury. The Aviation Laser Exposure Self Assessment (ALESA) tool is freely available online as a downloadable file that pilots can print off and use straight away or keep in their flight bags.
The core of the test consists of a 10cm² grid that, when viewed from 30cm away, can be used to detect whether a pilot’s vision has been affected by the laser beam.
When printed the grid should measure exactly 10cm x 10cm
The tool also includes guidance on when pilots should seek precautionary help from an eye specialist such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
BALPA (The British Airline Pilots Assn) website says:
LASER ILLUMINATION HAZARDS
Despite continuous improvements we are still seeing incidents in the UK involving lasers directed at landing aircraft and unfortunately they continue to be a threat to aviation. Several events have resulted in aircraft flying the visual segment of an approach being illuminated with a strong laser by persons on the ground, fortunately no direct eye contact has been reported, the potential for a temporary loss of vision was very real and the results could have been much worse.
The rapid proliferation of visible laser beams in airspace has resulted in a multitude of documented cases of flight crew laser illuminations since the early 1990s. Worldwide various ALPA’s (Airline Pilot Associations) have for many years aggressively urged the authorities to address the laser problem, but it has proven a difficult problem to thwart. To date, in the US where the use of high-intensity laser pointers is banned (as it is in Australia where perpetrators can be jailed for up to 14 years) only a handful of perpetrators of a laser incident have been prosecuted and convicted of a federal crime. Despite continuing law enforcement efforts to deter and apprehend miscreants, over 250 laser incidents had been reported in the US during the last six months alone
On January 11, 2005, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Advisory Circular (AC) No. 70-2, ‘Reporting of Laser Illumination of Aircraft in response to documented incidents of unauthorized illumination of aircraft by lasers’. That AC required all pilots to immediately report any laser sightings to air traffic controllers. It then required controllers to share that information through the federal DEN – Domestic Events Network (a phone line that is constantly monitored by safety, security and law enforcement personnel). Air traffic controllers would then work with the police to identify the source of the lasers to ensure a rapid police response to the scene.
A laser illumination event can result in temporary vision loss associated with:
(1) Flash blindness (a visual interference that persists after the source of illumination has been removed)
(2) After-image (a transient image left in the visual field after exposure to a bright light)
(3) Glare (obscuration of an object in a person’s field of vision due to a bright light source located near the same line of sight).
Laser effects on pilots occur in four stages of increasing seriousness – distraction, disruption, disorientation, and incapacitation. Given the many incidents of cockpit illuminations by lasers, the potential for an accident definitely exists but the fact that there have been no laser-related accidents to date indicates that the hazard can be successfully managed. Technologies are available to mitigate the effects of lasers, but are cumbersome, do not provide full-spectrum protection, and are unlikely to be installed on airline flight decks in the foreseeable future.
Advice to Pilots Exposed to Laser Attack 2012
Shield the eyes from the light source with a hand or a hand-held object and avoid looking directly into the beam. It is possible that a laser successfully aimed at the flight deck will be presaged by unsuccessful attempts to do so; these will be seen as extremely bright flashes coming from the ground and/or visible in the sky near the aircraft. Treat these flashes as a warning you are about to be targeted and prepare to shield the eyes. Do not look in the direction of any suspicious light.
Do not rub the eyes.
Alert the other crew member(s) to determine whether they have suffered any laser-related effects. If the other front seat pilot has not been affected, he or she should immediately assume or maintain control of the aircraft.
Manoeuvre to block the laser, if possible and subject to ATC . If on approach, consider a go-around.
Engage the autopilot.
After regaining vision, check flight instruments for proper flight status.
Turn flight deck lighting to maximum brightness to minimise any further illumination effects.
Immediately report the laser incident to ATC, including the direction and location of the laser source, beam colour and length of exposure (flash, pulsed and/or intentional tracking). Do not look directly into the beam to locate the source.
As soon as flight safety allows, check for dark/disturbed areas in vision, one eye at a time.
If incapacitated, contact ATC for priority/emergency handling. Consider autoland.
If symptoms persist, obtain an eye examination as soon as practicable. SEE NOTE BELOW
File an MOR. In the UK, ATC will notify the Police. When possible, write down all details for the Police.
If rostered for further flight sectors, consider whether you are physically and psychologically still fit to fly even if your self-assessment indicates no visual impairment. It is for individual flight crew to determine their fitness to fly in such circumstances regardless of operator policy.
NB1 If warned in advance by ATC or other aircraft of laser activity, consider requesting a different runway, holding until it is resolved, or diverting.
(and there is more…)