"Reporting Laser Events "
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, DC
October 27, 2011

ALPA Conference on Lasers

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you for joining us here today.

We are gathering together because we want to get the word out about lasers.

First let me say that lasers are a very important and useful technology – we use them for everything from surgery, to engraving, to reading the bar code at the supermarket checkout.

But lasers are seriously dangerous when turned toward an aircraft.  And we are seeing more and more instances of people putting pilots, passengers and aircraft at risk. It has to stop.

As a former commercial airline pilot I can tell you that shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is a serious safety risk. Lasers can temporarily blind pilots who are trying to fly safely with hundreds of passengers.

These incidents have caught the public’s attention. I have had people come up to me and ask me if this is really happening. And although it seems unbelievable that someone would shine a laser into an aircraft – that someone would do something so careless –yes, it’s happening. And this is a serious safety issue.

We are going to do everything in our power to deter these lasing incidents. And we need the public’s help with this.

We want to encourage the reporting of laser events by pilots, air traffic controllers and the public. If you see a laser pointed towards the sky in your neighborhood, please report it.

These are not toys. They can cause serious damage. We now have green laser devices widely available in the marketplace that are stronger, more readily seen, and can travel miles.

To help educate the public and make it easier to report a lasing event, we have created a new website devoted to this issue which we are launching today.

It is: www.faa.gov/go/laserinfo

Pilots can go onto this site and report a lasing event. Air traffic controllers can use it to report an incident. And the public is also encouraged to use the site to report laser incidents.

We want to decrease the number of lasing incidents nationwide. Already there have been more than 2,700 this year.

That’s a marked increase since we started keeping track six years ago. In 2005 we had about 300 incidents.

The top three metro areas with the most lasing incidents this year are Phoenix with 96, Philadelphia with 95 and Chicago with 83.

Partnering with law enforcement in our cities and states is an important part of combating this problem.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the FAA provided technical expertise to help the city develop an ordinance that makes it illegal to possess a laser if you are a minor. And it makes lasing an aircraft a misdemeanor.

Myrtle Beach has among the highest levels of laser incidents in the country.

Previously, when Myrtle Beach police responded to a lasing call, they would sometimes find a dozen teenagers in the area with lasers. But they could not make an arrest because there was nothing on the books against lasing. Now they can.

Cities and states across the country are helping to combat lasing incidents by passing laws to make the practice illegal.

On the national level, in June of this year we announced that we would impose civil penalties, or fines, against those who point a laser device into the cockpit of an aircraft.

We are using a new interpretation of a long-standing federal aviation regulation.  This interpretation is clear that directing a laser at an aircraft could cause interference with a flight crew.

Individuals violating this regulation are subject to penalties of up to $11,000 – an amount that should serve as a strong deterrent.

Usually when people think of interfering with a flight crew, they think of a disruption on the airplane itself. But we are saying that pointing a laser at an aircraft can interfere with the flight crew’s ability to fly the plane and is every bit as serious.

The FAA has 18 laser enforcement cases in progress right now using this regulation.  We will also work with law enforcement to assist with criminal prosecutions that can be brought under other federal, state and local laws.  

We understand that not everyone who shines a laser into the sky is purposefully trying to do harm. On our new laser website, we lay out valuable information for the public about how to safely plan a light show or outdoor laser activity.  We want to work with the people who have the best of intentions.  But everyone has to understand how serious an issue this is.

We are going to do everything we can to protect the safety of our pilots, our passengers and our aircraft.

I want to thank you for coming out today and joining this conference. There’s a lot to learn. By talking with each other and working together, we can decrease this dangerous practice.

Now I’d like to turn it back over to Captain Moak.