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Fact Sheet – Laser Strikes

For Immediate Release

February 11, 2014
Contact: Laura J. Brown
Phone: (202) 267-3883

Aiming a laser at an aircraft creates a serious safety risk that violates federal law. High-powered lasers can temporarily blind pilots flying aircraft that often carry hundreds of passengers. As shown in the chart below, reported incidents of lasers aimed at aircraft have increased dramatically since FAA instituted a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots.

Laser incidents per year
YearNumber of Laser Incidents

The FAA since June 2011 has taken enforcement action against those who violate Federal Aviation Regulations by shining lasers at aircraft. The agency may impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. Civil penalties of up to $30,800 have been imposed by the FAA against individuals for multiple laser incidents.

From February through December of 2012, the agency investigated 95 cases of laser events and took enforcement action in 62 of those cases. During 2013, the agency investigated 57 cases and took enforcement action in 34. The two-year total is 152 investigations and 96 enforcement actions.

The increase in reports is due to a number of factors, including greater awareness by pilots to report laser incidents, as encouraged through an extensive outreach program by the FAA; the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet, stronger power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes and the introduction of green lasers, which are more visible to the human eye than red lasers.

The FAA’s guidance for agency investigators and attorneys stresses that laser violations should not be addressed through warning notices or counseling. The agency seeks moderately high civil penalties for inadvertent violations, but maximum penalties for deliberate violations. Violators who are pilots or mechanics face revocation of their FAA certificate, as well as civil penalties.

Some cities and states have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft and, in many cases, people can face federal charges. (FBI Pilots New Reward Program Aimed at Deterring Laser Strikes) The FAA works with law enforcement agencies to assist with criminal prosecutions. Federal, state and local prosecutors have sentenced laser violators to jail time, community service, probation and additional financial penalties for court costs and restitution.


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