Do you remember laughing at your cat as it jumped up the wall enamored by the possibility of catching the little green dot as it danced across the wall? Laser pointers can be an entertaining pet toy and a useful device, but they also pose a significant risk when not handled safely. Laser pointers can cause eye damage, and if pointed at an aircraft the laser can illuminate the cockpit adversely affecting the pilot’s vision and potentially their ability to safely fly the aircraft.
March Air Reserve Base has experienced a spike in laser illumination incidences over the last few months. “There have been 14 laser illumination incidences in the current quarter, up from five the previous quarter,” said Air Traffic Control Director James Morimoto. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that most laser illumination incidences occur during the approach, landing, and take-off; the critical phases of flight. If the pilot is blinded, it puts the crew and passengers at risk, affects the mission and base assets. “If a pilot can never fly again, the wing loses $2-3 million in training and decades of experience,” emphasized Morimoto.
Due to the surge of laser illumination incidences, there has been an increase in activity between Security Forces and local law enforcement in attempt to identify and arrest the responsible parties. Security Forces have been working to bridge the gap between base operations and law enforcement and have recently created a direct line between the base control tower and Moreno Valley police. “We are trying to protect our base resources, populous, and our community,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Armstrong, 452nd Police Services Program Manager.
Nationwide the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) statistics also show that the amount of laser illumination incidents have more than doubled over the last five years from 3,591 in 2011 to 7,442 in 2016. Last year included 24 incidents of pilot eye effects or injuries. Illuminating an aircraft comes with hefty penalties. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 made it a federal felony to knowingly point the beam of a laser at an aircraft resulting in fines or imprisonment. A monetary reward offered by the FBI may be available for valuable information leading to the arrest of an individual who aims a laser at an aircraft.
Laser pointers have many uses such as assisting with presentations, star gazing in groups, survival signaling, and many other. In the form of holiday light projectors, lasers inexpensively create dazzling home displays. Remember, while enjoying your laser pointer device to use it safely and never point it at an aircraft in flight.
Here are some tips on what you can do:
• If you see a laser illuminating an aircraft, call 911 and the Security Forces Suspicious Activity line at (951) 655-7777 and report the location and what has been observed.
• Educate children about the risk of eye damage and to not aim laser pointers at aircraft.
• When using laser Christmas and holiday light projectors, take care to properly install with lights pointing away from the sky.
For more information on the effects of laser pointers on aircraft, visit the FAA website at www.faa.gov.