FBI, Austin Police Department Remind the Public That Lasers Aimed at Aircraft Are a State, Federal Violation
AUSTIN—FBI’s Austin Office and Austin Police Department are reminding the public that it is a federal violation to aim a laser at an aircraft in the air.
Under federal law, “knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a 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).”
Under Texas law, the crime is a misdemeanor.
Lasers were a popular stocking stuffer during the recent holiday season, but law enforcement notes that pointing a laser at an aircraft is extremely dangerous.
“This isn’t a harmless prank,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Doug Olson for FBI San Antonio. “Pointing a laser at an aircraft threatens the lives of those on the aircraft, and on the ground.”
Technology has made lasers easily available. However, pointing a laser at an airplane can temporarily blind a pilot, putting everyone on board at risk.
In October 2022, two Austin area men were convicted and sentenced on charges of violation of airspace after admitting to knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an Austin Police Department helicopter in flight. This was one of several cases seen across Texas every year.
Since June 2023, the Austin FBI office has received information about 11 incidents, with several others reported across the state of Texas.
“It is important for everyone to understand why pointing a laser at an aircraft is not a game, but could have severe consequences,” said APD Lieutenant JJ Schmidt. “Doing so could significantly impact many lives on the aircraft and on the ground. The crime is punishable and taken seriously.”
Anyone who witnesses an individual aiming a laser at an aircraft or any laser incident can report the incident:
- If it’s an emergency, call 911
- Contact the Austin Police Department’s non-emergency number at 512-974-2000 or online (non-emergency)
- Or contact the FBI at (210) 225-6741 (San Antonio field office), 1-800-225-5324, or online (non-emergency)
For more information on this, view the FAA’s laser visualization tool to see where laser strikes are happening in Texas.