Whether malicious or negligent, lasers pointing towards aircraft can have severe and often detrimental effects for aircraft pilots. When a laser is directed towards an airplane, it can cause a pilot to be disoriented and even temporarily blinded. As you can imagine, this raises grave concern for the safety of the aircraft, it’s crew, and it’s passengers. New laws and technology are being developed to protect pilots to combat this growing safety issue.
Over 6,754 reports of laser strikes on aircraft were reported in 2017, a number that has grown 250 percent since the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2010. The FAA has since partnered with all law enforcement agencies to help pursue civil and criminal penalties for anyone intentionally pointing a laser towards aircraft. As a federal crime, deliberately pointing a laser can lead to $250,000 fine along with a five-year prison sentence. Despite these warnings, the number of laser attacks is growing at an immense rate.
One of the key contributors to this growing issue is the easy accessibility of lasers. One quick search on the internet and you’ll find quite a selection of inexpensive lasers for purchase. Often, these lasers don’t label any warning signs or safety precautions with them. Because of this, many people overlook the dangerous capabilities lasers can present.
While some are unaware of the serious safety concerns, others use the incapacitating side effects to their advantage, planning malicious attacks to pilots in the air. Terrorists can utilize lasers to attack aircraft while they are in the air to either distract, blind, or injure pilots. The longer the pilot is exposed to the laser beam, the worse the effects could be. In some cases, permanent eye damage can be a result, putting the pilot entirely out of commission to fly again. In late 2018, the U.S. Air Force decided to invest in technology that could help protect aircrews against the emerging threat of laser attacks. This came shortly after the accusations of China firing military-grade lasers at U.S. aircraft. The technology, involving specialized glasses and visors, is being developed to protect the wearers eyes temporarily while shielding the impact of the laser.
The Pentagon invested in two companies, Gentax and Teledyne Scientific Imaging to develop eye protection. The companies received $98.3 million through the contract, which will deliver through 2024. They aren’t the first companies to develop glasses for pilots, with brands like PerriQuest creating laser defense eyewear to block blue, red, and green laser light. Green light is especially important to shield, as it is the most powerful of the laser colors. George Palikaras, a physicist and CEO also involved in protection, explains that green light is the color our eyes are most sensitive too because we see more green information than any other color.
The innovations in laser protection are crucial to helping protect aircraft pilots and crew. While technology continues to advance, it is equally as important to educate people on the detrimental effects of laser use.