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LAX reported highest number of incidents involving laser beams pointed at aircraft, FAA says

January 19, 2011 | 12:25 pm

Last year, Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of incidents in the country involving laser beams that were pointed at aircraft, a potentially dangerous activity that can distract or temporarily blind pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.

The nation’s third busiest airport had 102 reported incidents while the greater Los Angeles area tallied 201, including 32 at Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport, 32 from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, and 31 at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, according to the FAA. Long Beach Airport; the military reserve airfield at Los Alamitos; and general aviation airports, such as Van Nuys, and Santa Monica, accounted for the rest.

“This is a serious safety issue,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations.”

Nationally, the number of laser events almost doubled in 2010 from the previous year to more than 2,800 -- the highest number of reports since the federal government began tracking them in 2005. Chicago O’Hare came in second behind LAX with 98 reports. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for third with 80 laser events each.

FAA officials say the laser events have steadily increased since the agency created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots. Reports rose from almost 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.

The increase is likely due to a number of factors, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet, higher power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes, increased pilot reporting of laser strikes, and the introduction of green lasers, which are more easily seen than red lasers.

“The FAA is actively warning people not to point high-powered lasers at aircraft because they can damage a pilot’s eyes or cause temporary blindness,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We continue to ask pilots to immediately report laser events to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement officials.”

Some cities and states have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft. In many cases, people can face federal charges.


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-- Dan Weikel