Toronto Star's View: Ottawa should criminalize...
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Aug 04, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Ottawa should criminalize shining lasers into cockpits

Laser beams can temporarily blind pilots and put flight safety into jeopardy


It’s hard to believe that the green light from a pen-sized laser could bring down a plane or helicopter by temporarily blinding a pilot. But the potential is real.

The effects on flight crews of shining a laser from the ground into a cockpit range from startle to glare and, in some instances, flash blindness, afterimage or even temporary eye injury, organizations representing airlines and aviation organizations say.

And the number of incidents of someone shining a laser into a cockpit of Canadian aircrafts is growing exponentially. In 2013, there were 461 instances of “laser strikes.” That’s up 30 per cent over 2012. Already this year there have been 184 incidents.

No wonder Canada’s airlines, pilots and aviation organizations are asking Transport Minister Lisa Raitt for action on three fronts that they feel will protect pilots from laser strikes.

First, while directing a laser at an aircraft is already an offence under the Aeronautics Act and carries a maximum fine of $100,000 and a possible five-year prison sentence, the organizations want it to come under the Criminal Code.

They argue that will “put the public on notice that shining a laser into an aircraft cockpit is a serious offense that will be met with serious consequences.”

The organizations, representing 9,000 pilots, also requested that lasers sold be limited to emissions of 5 milliwatts, or less, unless they are used for a specific purpose where a permit would be required. (Stronger lasers are used legitimately by astronomers to point out stars in the night sky.) Currently lasers as strong as 2,000 milliwatts can be bought through the Internet and other sources.

And they asked the minister to initiate a campaign to warn the public of the dangers of shining lasers into cockpits.

For some reason, the GTA seems to be a hot spot for this type of activity. In one case in 2010 a police chopper was flying above the streets of Ajax, helping to locate a suspected impaired driver, when suddenly a dazzling green light temporarily blinded the crew. The helicopter dropped quickly.

No one was hurt and the crew was able to use infrared technology to pinpoint where the laser came from. Police then laid charges under the Aeronautics Act.

Still, the airline organizations and pilots believe making laser strikes an offence under the Criminal Code will be more of a deterrent and give police “more authority” to act.

Canada should follow the lead of other countries.

In the U.S., where pilots reported laser strikes 3,960 times in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration wants to limit emissions of laser pointers to a maximum of 5 milliwatts. And a public awareness campaign this year has already reduced laser strikes by 19 per cent.

Considering the security and safety concerns, Raitt should immediately act on the aviation organizations’ request.

Toronto Star

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(1) Comment

By Robert | AUGUST 06, 2014 01:43 PM
This one sounds like a no-brainer.
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