More flights in danger

With increasing laser incidents

8:55 PM, Sep 30, 2011 | Written by Jessica Zartler

DENVER – Anything that puts a pilot in jeopardy puts passengers at risk too and two recent incidents are highlighting concerns about a growing danger hitting the Denver skies.

Last week, a United Airlines pilot was on his way to Los Angeles from Denver when just 10 miles southeast of the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport in Broomfield he called the FAA saying a green laser had been shined in his cockpit.
About an hour later, a second pilot flying a small private plane about five miles from the Arapahoe County Airport in Centennial reported a laser in the cockpit.

Per standard procedure, the incidents were reported to the FAA who reported them to local law enforcement, however; with an elevation of several thousand feet, pinpointing the location of where the laser came from on the ground is nearly impossible.
“Finding the person who did this is like finding a needle in a haystack,” FBI spokesman Dave Jolly said.
The FBI says because neither pilot was harmed they will not actively investigate the incidents however they do keep the information on hand in case they receive a tip or lead.

Investigators have had success making arrests in some laser incidents but they came from more low-flying planes and helicopters that were able to spot and track the perpetrators.
Although the FAA has had no record of a crash due to a laser incident, aviation experts say because of the distraction and disorientation a laser may cause, it is completely possible.

“One of the things that happens at large airports where you have a high density of traffic is if you have this temporary blindness, if the pilot isn’t able to see out the window, or even see his instruments during critical phase of flight – that can pose an issue because they may not see another airplane coming across their path or they may misread their instruments,” 9NEWS Aviation Expert Greg Feith said.
In addition to safety risks to the plane and passengers, pilots’ vision is also at risk. The FAA has received several reports of damage to pilots’ vision due to laser incidents.

The latest incidents in Denver highlight concerns about the growing security threat.
In January, the Federal Aviation Administration reported a record number of nationwide reports of lasers pointed at aircraft in 2010. That number was 2,800 and had almost doubled from the previous year.

In 2010, Denver International Airport and other metro area airports reported 38 laser incidents. So far this year, that number has jumped to 43.
The FAA says it believes the number of incidents is growing because of three things: more pilots are reporting the incidents since the FAA first started keeping track in 2005, cheap laser devices are more readily available, and because there is little to no regulation of lasers, more powerful lasers are available online.

The red, handheld, five to 20 milliwatt lasers often used as pointers in presentations are not powerful enough to reach planes. The FAA’s concern is the shorter wavelength lasers, demonstrated by their colors, blue and green that are available for a few hundred dollars online.
Some of those lasers shine up to 1,000 milliwatts and can light a match from 2 to 3 feet away or shine up to 4 miles in the sky.
Although there is little regulation when it comes to the sale of powerful lasers, it is illegal in most states to shine a laser at an airplane. It is also federal offense and is often prosecuted as interference with a flight crew.

The crime can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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