Agencies Warn the Public About Laser Strikes on Aircraft
The FBI in partnership with the Kansas City Missouri Police Department and the Kansas City Aviation Department want to remind members of the public about the danger of pointing lasers at aircraft, including helicopters. An act that may be intended as fun or a prank could impair the pilots’ vision and potentially cause an accident. With the holiday season approaching and an anticipated uptick in travel, law enforcement wants to ensure all air travelers safely reach their destinations.
The FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began tracking laser strikes in 2005, and the data has shown a steady increase in the deliberate targeting of aircraft by people with handheld lasers. In 2010 there were 2,836 laser strikes reported across the United States compared with 6,852 laser strikes in 2020. The trend continues in 2021. According to a FAA news release, as of October 14, the FAA has received 7,186 laser strike reports for 2021, exceeding the 2020 total of 6,852. This marks the highest number or reports since 2016.
Law Enforcement has recently seen an increase in laser strikes aimed at commercial aircraft in the area. In 2020, there were 3 laser incidents within the greater Kansas City area. As of October 29, 2021, there have been 8 this year.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is extremely dangerous and puts the lives of the passengers and pilots at risk. This action causes an imminent threat to aviation safety with the potential to cause grave danger. “Lasing” an aircraft can cause temporary blindness of the pilots, loss of control, for the plane to divert and make an emergency landing of an aircraft, holding up to hundreds of passengers.
These attacks are perpetrated on all types of aircraft, not just commercial airlines. Reports have been received of lasing attacks on commercial aircraft, police aircraft, and even medical transport helicopters. All types of aircraft are targets, and the FBI and its partners are committed to finding and prosecuting those who violate potential federal law and point lasers at airplanes—ultimately putting lives at risk.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal violation. Under federal law, knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is felony offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine (18 u.s.c 39A). Additionally, an individual can face as much as 20 years in prison for interference with an aircraft (19 u.s.c. 32). The FAA can also impose civil penalties with fines up to $11,000 per violation and $30,800 for multiple incidents. The FAA has issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes during 2021.
Thousands of laser attacks go unreported every year. If you have information about a lasing incident, or see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, contact the Kansas City FBI at 816-512-8200. If you see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, call the nearest local law enforcement agency immediately by dialing 911 or consult the FAA website.
Located on the FAA website is a visualization tool that analyzes laser strike data from 2010 to 2020, as well as video and a fact sheet about the dangers of lasers. Additionally, B-Roll demonstrating a laser strike on aircraft is attached.