2021 a record year for laser pointer incidents reported by pilots, FAA says

ORLANDO, Fla. — Data released by the Federal Aviation Administration shows Florida is a hotspot for laser pointer attacks against aircrafts.

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The FAA says they received the highest number of laser attack reports from pilots on record in 2021. Pilots across the country reported 9,723 incidents last year, a 41-percent increase from 2020.

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Dr. Bob Thomas, Professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, says the lasers can cause temporary blindness or temporary distractions for a pilot.

Florida ranks third in the country for most laser strikes, with Central Florida making up a large portion of the state’s incidents.

Dr. Thomas says that’s simply due to how busy the air space is in Central Florida.

“Daytona, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna...lots of airports around.,” Dr. Thomas said. “We’re doing a record number of activities and training activities.”

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The incidents are happening as high as 10,000 feet in the air, but a majority of them ae reported during takeoffs or landings when distractions can be even more dangerous.

“You are already trying to stabilize a helicopter in the wind, and now you got a laser in your eye,” Thomas said. “It’s something that could lead to a bigger accident possibly happening.”

Thomas says he’s worried the trend will continue.

“More people buy lasers. There’s not a lot of opportunities to enforce some of those laws. And trying to catch people in the act is pretty tricky,” Thomas said.

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The FAA is working to educate the public and stressing that they take the threat seriously. Getting caught shining a laser pointer at an aircraft is a federal crime with harsh penalties, including years in jail and large fines.

The FAA says they issued $120,000 in fines for laser pointer strikes in 2021 alone.

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