Canadian pilots calling for tougher measures against laser-pointing
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, June 8, 2014 10:13PM EDT
Shine a laser at your cat and you’ll be in for hours of fun. But point it at an airplane and you could end up in jail.
This week, the FBI began offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who aims a laser at an aircraft. And though the reward is specific to the U.S., it’s a problem Canadian pilots want to see addressed as well.
According to the FBI, the number of incidents of people targeting aircrafts with handheld laser pointers has skyrocketed by more than 1,000 per cent since they began collecting data in 2005. In 2013, there were almost 4,000 reported incidents of pilots being distracted or even temporarily blinded in the U.S. In Canada, there were 461 such incidents last year.
With powerful handheld lasers easily available online, an activity that some might consider a prank is becoming an increasingly painful headache for pilots.
The crime of shining amplified light at the eyes of pilots can come with a steep punishment in the U.S. Earlier this year, a 26-year-old California man was sentence to 14 years in prison for attempting to interfere with an aircraft.
In Canada, someone convicted of pointing a laser into an aircraft cockpit could face up to five years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine under the Aeronautics Act. Canadian pilots are also pushing to see laser pointing listed as an offence in the Criminal Code, with some suggesting restrictions on the sale of powerful lasers.
“I'd even go so far as to say some of these lasers should be considered prohibited weapons if they are going to be used in this fashion,” said Craig Blandford, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association.
Laser pointers are popular among astronomers and can be used for outdoor demonstrations and other public events. But while the piercing beam is useful for pointing out constellations, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada warns its members not to point indiscriminately.
The laser pointer “remains one of the coolest tools in the amateur's instrument case -- but only if used responsibly,” reads the RASC website, reminding users that they are “tools, not toys.”
Although there haven’t been any aircraft crashes attributed to laser pointer misuse, the rising number of incidents has authorities worried a serious accident might be inevitable.
Transport Canada has a web page warning of the dangers and consequences of illegal laser use. The agency says it’s working with “various police authorities, other government departments, and the aviation industry” to enforce the law.
With a report from CTV’s Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin