"Civil Penalties for Pointing Lasers into Cockpits"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
June 1, 2011
Good morning and thank you for coming out today.
I’m joined here by two experienced pilots, Captain Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. And Captain Chad Smith, a pilot who experienced a laser incident and can describe it to you.
We are here to talk about lasers and their effect on aircraft. Casting a laser beam at an airplane is no joke. This is very serious business and we need to get the word out.
We are announcing today that the Federal Aviation Administration will begin to impose civil penalties, or fines, against those who point a laser device into the cockpit of an aircraft. These fines are a new tool in combating the rise in lasing events.
Lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to land safely, jeopardizing the safety of passengers and also people on the ground.
The civil fine will be up to $11,000 for interfering with a flight crew. This means that if your friend points a laser at a plane and then hands you the laser and you do it too, you can each get an $11,000 fine. It’s simple. Point a laser, pay the price.
We are using an interpretation of a long-standing aviation regulation to impose these penalties. Usually when people think of interfering with a flight crew, they think of a disruption on the airplane itself. But pointing a laser at an aircraft is interfering with a flight crew. It interferes with their ability to fly the plane and is every bit as serious.
We have seen a steady increase in laser events since we began tracking this problem in 2005.
During this period, the incidents have gone from nearly 300 in 2005, to more than 1,500 in 2009, and last year the number jumped to 2,800.
This year, Phoenix and Dallas-Forth Worth have seen the greatest number of laser events, with more than 45 each so far. And Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston each have recorded more than 30 laser events.
We have seen some progress in places like Chicago, where the number of laser events has decreased compared to last year. But as the busy summer travel season begins, we do not want to relax our efforts.
Weare going to do everything we can to protect the safety of our pilots, our passengers and our aircraft.
We will also work with law enforcement to assist with criminal prosecutions that can be brought under other federal, state and local laws.
We are actively encouraging pilots to report any incidents of lasers to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement.
This is a very serious problem. Lasers today are very strong and can hit aircraft at higher altitudes than before. We now have green laser devices widely available in the marketplace that are stronger and more readily seen than the red lasers used in pointers.
Bottom line: pointing a laser at an aircraft is a public safety hazard and harms others. Don’t do it.
Thank you very much for your time and for helping us inform the public about this issue.
Now I’d like to turn it over to Captain Lee Moak.