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Friday, December 3, 2021
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FAA Sees Increase in Laser Incidents That Put Pilots and Whole Communities at Risk

The number of incidents reported in 2020 incidents was the highest annual total since 2016. And 2021's total looks set to surpass that with more than 5,000 incidents already reported.

Shining a laser at an aircraft poses a serious safety threat and can result in large fines and criminal penalties. Working to identify trends in laser strikes, the U.S. Transportation Department’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed a visualization tool that analyzes laser strike data from 2010 to 2020.

Using the Tableau software platform, the tool identifies trends that include geographic area, per capita data, time of day and year. The FAA is sharing the information in the new format to draw attention to the dangerously high rate of laser strikes on airplanes. 

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot and not only affects the crew but endangers passengers and the communities they fly over every night,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

Laser strikes increased in 2020 despite the decrease in flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pilots reported 6,852 laser strikes to the FAA last year, up from 6,136 in 2019. The number of incidents reported in 2020 incidents was the highest annual total since 2016. 

Between January 1 and July 30 2021, there have been more than 5,000 reported incidents, indicating that the number of laser strikes this year will increase considerably from last year’s total.

Last month, Raji Yusuf was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. The indictment alleges that on June 26, 2021, Yusuf knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer at a Philadelphia Police helicopter while it was in flight.

People who shine lasers at aircraft face FAA fines of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple laser incidents. The FAA has issued $600,000 in fines since 2016, which includes $120,000 in 2021. Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

See the laser incident statistics at FAA

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Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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