Aiming Laser Pointers at Helicopters is Illegal

Incidents involving lasers aimed at helicopters and other aircrafts are unfortunately pretty frequent. In most cases, there were no injuries and the offenders were found, but the consequences of aiming a laser at an aircraft could be deadly if a crash would occur, especially since laser lights cause distractions and blindness, and could also injure pilots and people on board.

The laser hits the glass of the police helicopter's cockpit, nearly blinding the two officers inside

The laser hits the glass of the police helicopter’s cockpit, nearly blinding the two officers inside. Source:

In 1997, a Russian trawler was suspected of aiming a laser at a Canadian CH-124 helicopter with two Canadians and a U.S. Navy Lt on board. They had been dispatched there to photograph the trawler since it was suspected to be a spy ship. One of the passengers and the Canadian pilots suddenly developed problems that were later diagnosed by medical experts to be “consistent with eye problems” associated with laser burns. They had cuts to the retina, swelling around the eyes, headaches and foggy vision for several days.

More recently, in Lexington (USA), a man pointed a laser at a police helicopter and was found guilty to second-degree wanton endangerment.

In 2010, the FBI said that there were more than 2,800 reported laser incidents in United-States.

Several cases were also reported in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), where men were charged under the Criminal Code with assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon, and others were arrested with assault with a weapon, possession of an offensive weapon, mischief-actual danger to life, endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight and creating a hazard to aviation safety.

AFP photographer Khaled Desouki

Photo: AFP photographer Khaled Desouki

This photo was taken in Egypt, where hundreds of protesters pointed lasers at an army helicopter, wrapping the aircraft in a web of green beams.

Police can use deadly force
In Florida, and in Thailand, two men were shot because they refused to stop aiming their lasers at officers. Because laser gunsights are common, police can get very worried when someone points a laser at them.

To avoid aviation hazards, users on the ground have to be careful, to prevent any laser being directed towards aircrafts. Some countries also have regulations regarding laser use. In the United States, persons operating outdoor lasers are requested to file reports with the FAA at least 30 days in advance, detailing their laser power(s).

Some cities, regions, and states even had to ban lasers following incidents. This is the case in Australia, where in 2008, four green laser pointers were used on 6 aircrafts landing at the Sydney (New South Wales) Australia airport. A law was later proposed to ban possession of handheld lasers, even “harmless classroom pointers”. The state of Victoria, also in Australia, has a similar ban since 1998.

United States cities of Ocean City (MD) and Ocean City (NJ), have severely restricted or banned laser pointer sales and possession, while several other countries have regulations controlling the importation and sale of laser pointers.

Even if they might seem harmless, laser pointers can cause distractions and be dangerous when aimed at an aircraft. Some crews might have safety glasses (red for a red laser and green for a green laser) that they can use to prevent blindness, but the solution remains education. People need to know the danger and the consequences of pointing lasers directly at an aircraft.


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