Call for law to crack down on laser pens

Avi­a­tion chief wants tough penal­ties

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By Amita Joshi amita.joshi@trin­i­tymir­

PEO­PLE found car­ry­ing pow­er­ful laser pens should be ar­rested even if they are not us­ing them, the head of the UK’s avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tor has said.

An­drew Haines, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity (CAA), claimed new leg­is­la­tion is needed to cut the num­ber of laser at­tacks on air­craft.

He be­lieves the mis­use of lasers is a tougher is­sue to solve than near misses in­volv­ing drones be­cause the for­mer are “a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to cause harm”.

Un­der the ex­ist­ing Air Nav­i­ga­tion Or­der 2009, it is an of­fence to act in a man­ner “likely to en­dan­ger an air­craft”.

Mr Haines ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion at the dif­fi­culty in prose­cut­ing peo­ple un­der this law be­cause of the re­quire­ment to “find the per­son un­der­tak­ing the task and demon­strate in­tent”.

There is also a lesser of­fence of shin­ing a light at an air­craft, but the CAA boss called for the law to be tough­ened so any­one found car­ry­ing a laser pointer can be ar­rested.

He said: “We and Balpa, the pilots’ trade union, are very keen that the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duces leg­is­la­tion which means that the mere posses­sion of these high-pow­ered lasers by in­di­vid­u­als not li­censed for them would be a crim­i­nal of­fence.

“Why does Joe Bloggs walk­ing down the street need a laser that can pop a bal­loon at 50 miles, that can cause per­ma­nent dam­age to a pilot?”

A Heathrow Air­port spokesper­son has pre­vi­ously said the air­port “have a very ro­bust se­cu­rity regime in place” and “are al­ways re­spon­sive and vig­i­lant when it comes to new threats.”

They added: “As part of that regime, we don’t com­ment on the spe­cific mea­sures we have in place, but will con­tinue to work with part­ners to en­sure that UK airspace re­mains safe.”

The gov­ern­ment in­sisted it is “look­ing to make changes” to con­trol the sale and use of laser pens as soon as pos­si­ble.

CAA fig­ures show there were 1,439 laser at­tacks on air­craft in the UK last year – equiv­a­lent to al­most four per day.

Heathrow air­port was the most com­mon lo­ca­tion with 121 in­ci­dents, fol­lowed by Birm­ing­ham (94) and Manch­ester air­port (93).

Septem­ber was the worst month for at­tacks with 91, nar­rowly ahead of Au­gust when there were 88.

Balpa gen­eral sec­re­tary, Brian Strut­ton, said: “We are con­cerned about the high num­ber of laser at­tacks in re­cent years and about the in­creas­ing power of these de­vices.

“Peo­ple need to un­der­stand they are not toys and point­ing them at an air­craft can dazzle and dis­tract the pilot at a crit­i­cal stage of flight, en­dan­ger­ing the pas­sen­gers, crew and peo­ple on the ground.”

Mr Haines de­scribed high-pow­ered lasers as “pieces of sci­en­tific equip­ment” and in­sisted there is “no le­git­i­mate rea­son” for an in­di­vid­ual to have one in pub­lic.

He said there have been cases of laser at­tacks caus­ing per­ma­nent dam­age to pilots’ eye­sight and although they have not brought down an air­craft, it would be “daft to rule it out” as a pos­si­bil­ity in the fu­ture.

A Vir­gin At­lantic flight was forced to re­turn to Heathrow in Fe­bru­ary when the co-pilot re­ported feel­ing un­well af­ter a laser was di­rected at the plane shortly af­ter take-off.

And just nine days later a Bri­tish Air­ways ser­vice from Amsterdam was af­fected when a beam was aimed at the air­craft as it headed to­wards the west Lon­don hub.

An edi­to­rial pub­lished in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Oph­thal­mol­ogy in April warned that pilots tend to fo­cus on sud­den bright lights, mean­ing that a laser at­tack can cause them to be daz­zled and leave them with an af­ter­im­age.

It added that in re­cent years the na­ture and sup­ply of hand­held de­vices has changed dra­mat­i­cally, with many now stronger and un­suit­able for sale to the gen­eral pub­lic.

Why does Joe Bloggs walk­ing down the street need a laser that can pop a bal­loon at 50 miles?”

n DAN­GER: Pilots have been left daz­zled when the pow­er­ful laser pens have been shone at air­craft

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