OKLA. CITY —
Aiming a laser pointer, also known as “lasing,” at an aircraft is a violation of federal law, and the FBI is offering a hefty reward for information leading the arrest of offenders.
FBI Oklahoma City Special Agent Martinus McConnell said on Tuesday the agency began a national campaign to deter the activity in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Line Pilots Association International, law enforcement at all levels nationally and internationally and other stakeholders.
When aimed at an aircraft from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots, according to the FBI.
Pilots who have been subjected to such an incident have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night. As of December 13, 2013, the FAA had documented at least 35 incidents in which pilots required medical attention after a laser strike, the FBI reports.
McConnell said the campaign will run for 90 days and offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft.
Laser pointers are legal to own for legitimate purposes. Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a felony federal violation punishable by up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a $11,000 civil penalty from the FAA, McConnell said.
Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, echoed the admonitions.
“It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions,” Hosko said via an FBI news release.
Since the FBI and FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been a more than 1,000 percent increase in the number of incidents; the devices can be bought in stores or online for as little as a few dollars.
In 2013, 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft were reported, an average of almost 11 incidents per day. It’s estimated that thousands of incidents go unreported each year.
In June 2012, a two-count federal complaint was filed against an Oklahoma City man for aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an Oklahoma City Police Department helicopter.
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous and irresponsible it is to point a laser at an aircraft,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “We know that targeted enforcement has succeeded in driving down laser incidents in a number of cities, and we’ll continue to partner with law enforcement to address this problem nationwide.”
In February 2012, President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which included a new criminal offense for aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in U.S. special aircraft jurisdiction.
If you have information about a lasing incident, or see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, the FBI encourages you to call your local FBI field office or dial 911.
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