Making a Point About Lasers

In 2009, there were 1,489 laser events logged with the FAA—that is, pilots reporting that their cockpits were illuminated by the devices. The following year that figure had nearly doubled to 2,836, an average of more than seven incidents every day of the year.

Video Transcript

The light shining into this cockpit is not from a floodlight. It’s actually from a laser pointer. This video, produced for the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA, shows how dangerous it is for pilots when people point lasers at airplanes, jets or helicopters.

“By the time it gets to us at 1,000 feet, it’s a lot bigger than it looks like at night and not just a pinpoint. As it hits that plexiglass, the light disperses even more throughout the cockpit.”

At an FBI news conference, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Doug Reinholz talked about how disorientating it was when he and his partner were lasered while on night patrol in a helicopter.

“It’s equivalent to a flash of a camera if you were in a pitch black car at night. It’s a temporary blinding to the pilot and also to the tactical flight officer, whoever we are with.”

Justin Stouder of suburban St. Louis pointed the laser. It took only minutes for officers to find and arrest him.

“I’ll give a public apology to the pilot.”

Stouder was aiming the laser at a distant tower from his yard when the police helicopter appeared in the line of sight about a mile and a half away.

“It started off admiring the laser and shining it and seeing how far it goes and what it hit. The helicopter flew by and I made the decision to see if it would reach the helicopter. Obviously it did. But, in viewing the video I had no idea it illuminated the whole cockpit and blinded everybody inside.”

In 2010, there were more than 2,800 reported laser incidents nationwide. That’s the most since the FAA started keeping track in 2005.

“Pointing a laser, like this, at an aircraft is not a harmless prank. We take this seriously. These people standing here represent almost a dozen agencies that formed the St. Louis Laser Strike Working Group to combat this problem.”

There haven’t been any accidents from laser strikes mainly because of the skill of the pilots. But it has caused pilots to temporarily divert from their missions.

“Imagine you were in critical condition and a medical helicopter was responding to the call. But your pilot had to divert after being temporarily blinded by a laser. That’s a problem when you have a medical emergency and seconds and minutes count.”

“If you point a laser and interfere with the operation of an aircraft, that’s a felony. The crime carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a quarter of a million dollars fine. In addition, the FAA can impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each violation.”

Stouder completed a one-year pre-trial diversion program which is offered to eligible offenders who agree to follow terms and conditions of supervision and probation. After successful completion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agrees to not pursue charges.

“He is here today because he wants others to learn from his mistake. I applaud him for his courage to be here.”

Even though Stouder will not be prosecuted, he lost two career opportunities during probation.

“It was really a selfish mistake. I don’t know if the pilot has children, but if the aircraft would have went down it would affect so many people aside from myself.”

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