Washington, DC--In a move that reflects the growing security concern around laser pointers being aimed at aircraft, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would criminalize such acts. The House bill, entitled the "Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011," passed Feb. 28 on a voice vote. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Lungren (R- Calif.), the bill makes it a crime punishable by fines, up to five years in prison, or both to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. The Bill now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation has been included as an amendment to the FAA authorization bill.
This bill addresses the high number of incidents involving lasers being pointed at aircraft while in flight. More than 2,800 laser incidents were reported in 2010, according to a statement on Lungren's website. Many of these incidents are occurring during the take off and landing portion of a flight, when the pilots need to be most alert. The FAA has reported that pilots have had to relinquish control of their aircraft to their copilot. In the case of law enforcement aircraft, there are reports that responses to crime scenes by airborne police units were terminated due to laser interference.
"The danger from shining a laser at the cockpit of any aircraft, particularly commercial or law enforcement aircraft, especially during the take-off or landing phase, is a tragedy waiting to happen. My bill will provide an important tool to make aircraft travel safer for pilots and the public across the nation. I thank my colleagues for supporting this important bill," Lungren said.
Lungren also noted that the problem of lasers being aimed at cockpit crews has become so prevalent in the Sacramento area that the FBI, FAA, and the Federal Air Marshal Service have joined with state and local law enforcement in establishing a Laser Strike Working Group.
Commenting on the bill, the vice president of legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA, Frederick, MD), Lorraine Howerton, said, "Since the House passed this bill and similar language is included in the Senate-passed FAA Reauthorization bill, the prospects of making it a crime to point lasers at aircraft and protecting pilots is greatly enhanced."
This bill is not the first to address the problem of lasers being aimed at aircraft. Previous attempts such as HR 1615 "Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2007" in May of 2007 did not make it into law, despite passing in the US House of Representatives.
For more information visit AOPA online.