Two young men (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) may be facing federal charges for pointing a green laser at a helicopter in the service of the California Highway Patrol. The helicopter was employed, at the time, in assisting the police in finding a suspect in the East Oakland area. Allegedly, both men decided to take the opportunity to use their high-powered laser, usually considered a toy, at the pilots in the cockpit. Although no one was injured, the incident is being taken very seriously.
Lasers like this are becoming an increasingly popular phenomenon. They are readily available from many different sources on the Internet and are powerful enough to shine their light at extremely high altitudes (about 1 mile). Most people consider them to be no more than a bit of fun, but they send out a beam that is hot enough to light a cigarette from close range. The issue that the FAA has is that, even though kids might think it funny to shine their lasers into cockpits, it temporarily blinds pilots and could end in disastrous consequences, not the least of which would be a fatal crash. In this particular case, the pilots were able to see well enough to identify the spot from which the laser’s light was being shone and sent the police to arrest both men.
Just this month, the FBI rolled out a campaign to specifically target what they call ‘lasing.’ The idea is for large rewards (rumored to be in the realm of $10,000) to be offered to those who have information about possible ‘lasing’ incidents and to create awareness across the nation about the dangers of the practice. Currently, federal law makes lasing a crime; punishment ranges from up to 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine to an additional FAA $11,000 civil fine (18 United States Code 39A – “Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft”).