Holiday laser-light displays have become increasingly popular in recent years. While the displays certainly help create some holiday cheer, they also can create a serious hazard if they are not positioned properly.
You might not put your eye out with that thing, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notes that it receives reports from pilots who have been distracted or temporarily blinded by residential laser-light displays each year.
“You might not realize this, but a well-meaning attempt to spread holiday cheer has the potential to create a serious safety risk to pilots and passengers on airplanes that fly overhead,” the FAA explains. “Please make sure all laser lights are directed at your house and not pointing towards the sky. The extremely concentrated beams of laser lights reach much farther than you might realize.”
A Growing Concern
The number of what the FAA calls “laser strikes against aircraft” continues to increase each year. What’s more, the number of laser strikes has spiked since the pandemic began, which makes sense given that more people decorated their houses for the holidays last year. Indeed, the number of reported laser incidents in 2020 jumped 12 percent compared to 2019 — and that’s despite a 60 percent decrease in the number of flights in 2020, according to data compiled by the FAA.
This year is shaping up in similar fashion. As of November 22, the FAA had received 8,550 laser strike reports for 2021, which is up from the 6,852 events reported in all of 2020. That’s the highest number of laser strike incidents reported since the FAA began tracking incidents in 2010.
Here’s why that’s such a problem: Laser strikes have been reported as high as 10,000 feet.
“Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft which may be carrying hundreds of passengers and crew members,” FAA Administrator and pilot Steve Dickson told USA Today. “A pilot can face temporary blindness or suffer an eye injury that could be permanent after a laser strike.”
“If we become aware that your laser-light display affects pilots, we’ll ask you to adjust them or turn them off,” the FAA explains. “If your laser-light display continues to affect pilots, despite our warnings, you could face a civil penalty.”
The FAA’s warning shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s because the federal agency works with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies “to pursue civil and criminal penalties against individuals who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft,” it explains. For example, the FAA can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.
It gets even more expensive for repeat offenders: Civil penalties of up to $30,800 have been imposed against individuals for multiple laser incidents.
You can learn more about the hazards of laser strikes here.
If you’ve seen someone aiming a laser at aircraft, the FAA asks that you report the incident. You can learn how to do that here.
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