New FAA Regulation Outlaws Dangerous Pastime

One of the items on the new FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 14, makes it a criminal offense to aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, or at the flight path of an aircraft, in the jurisdiction of the United States. Most rational people would think that should go without saying, but the recent prosecution of an Orlando Man who pleaded guilty to this charge has highlighted a growing trend in this dangerous pastime, with more than 3,500 reported incidents in 2011.

Take-off and landing are the most critical operations of air travel, where distracting a pilot increases risk exponentially. The accused offender reportedly faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for aiming the beam of a laser at passenger aircraft during take-off at Orlando International Airport on at least twenty-three occasions, and would presumably have continued to do so had authorities not put a stop to his game. In Virginia Beach, a man was prosecuted for temporarily blinding a helicopter pilot with a laser pointer, forcing the pilot to hand over controls to his co-pilot. At the time they were conducting a search for a runaway criminal and the search had to be abandoned. While at the point of origin the light of a laser pointer is very small, it expands by several inches over distance, and when it hits the glass of the cockpit, the light disperses and is extremely bright. In this latter incident, the offender admitted that he had no idea what the consequences of his actions may have been and was just “goofing around”. This highlights the need for public awareness that it is against the law to interfere with the authorized operation of an aircraft, and the potential consequences of violating this law.

Topics covered in the new FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 include Funding of FAA Programs, such as airport and noise compatibility planning, and air navigation facilities and equipment; Airport Improvement Program Modifications; NextGen Air Transportation Systems and Air Traffic Control Modernization; Safety, including general provisions and safety relating to unmanned aircraft systems; and Environmental Streamlining, including over flights of national parks, aviation noise complaints, and increasing the energy efficiency of airport power sources.