By Philip Newman
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked federal officials to tighten rules on the sale of laser pointers that people on the ground have been pointing into aircraft cockpits aloft, imperiling all those aboard.
Two weeks ago a laser was pointed into the cockpit of a JetBlue airliner traveling from Syracuse and preparing to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport over Islip, L.I., causing minor eye damage to the pilot.,” Schumer said.
“Shining a laser at an aircraft is dangerous and could lead to a horrible tragedy,” said Schumer. “While these incidents seem to be rising, regulations dealing with power and sale of these products have not kept up,” Schumer said.
“A week and a half ago, in a separate incident, a laser was pointed at a Suffolk County police helicopter flying near Brentwood, L.I.,” Schumer said. “According to Federal Aviation Administration statistics, 1,749 laser incidents have been reported this year,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the FAA reported the number of such incidents has risen from 283 in 2005 to 3,591 in 2011.
The problem, according to Schumer, is that while it is already a federal crime to point a laser at a jetliner cockpit, lasers are available to anybody at anytime.
Schumer also asked that federal officials reduce the strength of lasers and laser pointers and restrict recreational sale of more powerful lasers. Lasers in the United States fall into several categories of strength, but even more powerful lasers are easily purchased online and at retailers.
“As recent incidents have shown, lasers have the potential to interfere seriously with operation of an aircraft and actually damage a pilot’s eyesight,” Schumer said.
“While laser pointers at one time were primarily used for presentations in boardrooms and classrooms, they are now wildly available at trinket shops, flea markets, at retailers,” Schumer said.
“A 5-MW and 500-millimeter laser, during a perfect night can be seen up to 2.2 miles and can be a serious distraction at a distance at a quarter mile or 1,300 feet,” Schumer said in a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
A Senate bill was passed into law a few months ago making pointing a laser at an aircraft a federal crime, but current regulations allow anyone to buy even some of the most powerful lasers.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at [email protected] or phone at 718-260-4536.