Lasers shooting your safety out of the sky - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Lasers shooting your safety out of the sky

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

The Federal Aviation Administration has a warning about the dangers of pointing lasers at airplanes.

The number of reported incidents continues to rise and it is jeopardizing your safety every time you fly.

Pointing a laser at the cockpit of an airplane is like driving in the dark and having a camera's flash go off right in front of your face.  It can blind for a few seconds, maybe even minutes.

"They started tracking these laser incidents back in 2004.  In that year, there were less than 500.  Last year, there were close to 3,600," commercial airline pilot Rob Perez said.

Perez said the trend is partly due to how easy and cheap it is to get a laser.

"Some of it may just be people playing with them and not realizing how dangerous it is, but it's not a joke.  It's not a harmless prank.  It could potentially cause a serious accident," he said.

Up close, a laser projects just a small dot.  A thousand miles into the sky, laser beam light can spread so much a pilot cannot avoid it.

"It's a sudden bright light that causes temporary blindness.   The distraction is dangerous and the flash blindness is much more dangerous, that we can't see outside the plane," Perez said.

The FAA says it is a threat to public safety.

"When you do this, you're potentially endangering the lives of everyone on the aircraft," FAA's Lynn Lunsford said.

"With 10 of these incidents occurring on every single night, it's only a matter of time before a tragedy results from it," Perez said.

It's particularly dangerous because most of these happen when the airplane is in the "critical phase of flight".

"Take off, landing, an approach, taxiing, close to the ground, close to other planes, high work load, it's the busiest time for a pilot.  There's a lot of things going on," Perez said.

While the FAA says they work closely with law enforcement, catching people can be tricky.

"We notify law enforcement to pinpoint the location as best as possible, but it's difficult to catch a perpetrator because they can put the laser back in their pocket and walk away," Lunsford said.

Because the problem is only getting worse, there is now a federal law that could put you in jail.

"Knowingly pointing a laser at an airplane is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250 million," Perez said.

In addition to criminal penalties, you can also face civil penalties.  The FAA can assess up to an $11,000 fine per incident.

The worst lasers are green because the human eye is more sensitive to blue and green.  Red lasers are still pretty dangerous.

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