Dangerous laser strikes topped all previous records in 2021. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received 9,723 reports from pilots last year, a 41 percent increase over 2020.
Shining a laser at an aircraft is a serious safety threat. Many types of high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots, many of whom are flying airplanes with hundreds of passengers. Pilots have reported 244 injuries since the FAA began recording data on laser strikes in 2010.
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 issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021. Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Laser strikes had already increased in 2020 despite the decrease in flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pilots reported 6,852 laser strikes to the FAA in 2020, up from 6,136 in 2019. The number of incidents reported in 2020 incidents was the highest annual total since 2016. The dangerous trend has continued unabated with the record numbers from 2021.
“The FAA continues to educate the public about the hazards of laser strikes because they pose such a serious threat to the safety of the pilot, the passengers and everyone in the vicinity of the aircraft,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.
To identify laser-strike trends, the FAA developed a visualization tool, using the Tableau software platform, that shows laser-strike data from 2010 to 2021 and highlights trends by geographic area, per capita data, time of day and year. The FAA shares the information to draw attention to the dangerously high rate. Laser report data by year can be downloaded on the FAA’s website.
Commercial and recreational pilots are not the only victims of laser strikes. U.S. Coast Guard air and ship crew members have been targeted, along with police officers and border patrol agents. Such attacks also carry the charge of assault on a federal officer.
The FAA encourages the public to report laser strikes to the FAA and local law enforcement agencies.