New Statute Outlaws Pointing Lasers at Planes

Since 2009, lasers have obstructed nearly 30 flights approaching Pittsburgh International.

Shining a laser at an aircraft or its point of travel is now illegal under federal law. 

President Obama on Feb. 14 signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which includes provisions that make it a criminal offense to aim a laser beam at an aircraft or its flight path.

The crime is punishable by a fine of $250,000 and a maximum sentence of five years in prison. 

More than 28 incidents involving lasers obstructing aircraft approaching Pittsburgh International Airport have been recorded since September 2009, according to David J. Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 

Hickton said that since 2009 75 aircraft laser incidents have occurred in the Pittsburgh region, the majority of which affected Pittsburgh International flights. 

The statute was enacted after a growing number of pilots across the country reported that lasers beamed from the ground distracted or temporarily blinded them.

In 2010, nationwide reports of lasers obstructing aircraft almost doubled from the previous year, rising from 1,527 in 2009 to 2,826 in 2010. In 2011, 3,591 aircraft laser incidents were recorded.  

"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not only criminal, it is a serious safety issue," Hickton said. "Many high-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destination and often times with hundreds of passengers aboard." 


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