FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Army officials warn that pointing a laser at an aircraft goes beyond the risk to everyone’s safety, it also violates federal law.
“Aiming lasers at Army aircraft is a large safety issue,” said Fort Rucker civilian police Capt. Douglas W. Johnson, Directorate of Public Safety. “Aviators and crew members flying during hours of darkness are routinely utilizing night vision equipment, and a laser shining into the cockpit is bright enough to injure them.
“The distraction of being blinded by a laser could potentially cause the pilot to lose control of the aircraft and cause an aviation mishap, as well,” he added.
But shining a laser at an aircraft is also a crime, and it can bring serious repercussions to the offender, Johnson said.
“Shining a laser at an aircraft violates Title 18 U.S. Code 39A, Aiming a Laser Pointer at an Aircraft,” said Johnson. “There are additional charges that can be filed at the state level, and if the person shining the laser is a military member they are subject to Uniform Code of Military Justice action. DPS also submits an eGuardian, which is a suspicious activity report to the FBI.”
Since 2010, there have been 145 reported incidents of aircraft being illuminated with a laser or spotlight, averaging about 11 per year, according to Paul Meissner, Fort Rucker air traffic and air space officer.
“The key point is the safety issue. It only takes one incident to have catastrophic consequences,” he added.
“The effects on pilots can differ depending on the duration, strength and point of the laser,” said Meissner. “In some cases, aircrews can continue their flight training mission. In other cases, aircrews must cease training and return to base.”
He further explained that the danger of shining lasers at aircraft is not just to the pilots and aircrews in the aircraft. “If an aircraft and its crewmembers are placed in harm’s way, it could lead to accidents or incidents that may impact personnel or property on the ground.”
Meissner stressed that being informed is the best way to protect yourself and the aircrews in the sky.
“Fort Rucker has a great relationship with our neighboring communities who are very supportive of our mission,” he said, “I would say many of the incidents involve people playing around with lasers, not fully understanding the associated dangers.”
You can learn more about how laser safety can protect local aviators by visiting https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers.