Don’t Use The Force!
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
With our continued appetite for science fiction, we are often mesmerized by the latest technology mirrored on the movie screen. In fact, kids and adults alike enjoy watching the fast-paced, space-based storylines complete with rocket ships and futuristic weaponry; however, perhaps one downside of this trend for aviation is the mass production and sales of powerful laser pointers designed to emulate light sabers of both our favorite heroes and villains alike.
Easy to find and relatively inexpensive to obtain, pilots might reasonably argue that there are no heroes on the ground with lasers. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that laser incidents for pilots rose a whopping 42% in 2021 to over 9,700, which is more than one per hour. Despite potential fines of up to $11,000 per violation and over $30,000 for multiple laser incidents, the FAA still issued over $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021. While that might seem high, there are still a distressing number of incidents that go unresolved. The latest FAA data doesn't seem to show any relief as the first quarter of 2022 included 2,275 reported laser strikes, up from 1,944 in 2021.
While there have been no reported incidents of a laser causing a fatal accident, the potential is certainly there and some pilots have reported permanent damage caused by a laser beam pointed at the flight deck. With social media trends boasting amusing tricks with lasers such as popping balloons and lighting cigarettes, sales are on the rise and pilots should be aware of the risks and be prepared to respond. There are several protective goggles on the market with advertised laser eye protection (LEP), including one created by researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory and successfully tested with the Washington State Highway Patrol. The commercial aviation low intensity (CALI) sunglasses offer a limited range of protection and do not interfere with the flight deck instrument panel. They also come with frames to accommodate all types of headsets and helmets and have two configurations for both fixed wing and rotary wing pilots.
While California, Texas, and Florida currently lead the nation in reported laser incidents, no one is particularly safe. The FBI is currently offering a $10,000 reward after experiencing more than 100 strikes since January around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, including 28 in a three-day period. Pilots are most at risk during take-off and landing, or during operations closer to the ground. Having a keen sense of situational awareness, quick reaction time, and a dedicated habit of reporting all incidents are some of the best ways for pilots to avoid this dangerous scenario for themselves and others.
Science fiction can be fun, but there is nothing appealing about a real world fatality that can be easily avoided. There are a few organizations still working to educate the public on the dangers of lasers, but until we can adequately lower our growing risk, consider your own tools and measures to fly safe. Because contrary to the heroes of Star Wars, we do NOT want this kind of force to be with us!