Photo by First Officer Mike Sowsun

Lasers

“We were on our final approach into Toronto. The first officer was flying and, as I was monitoring the approach, I heard him say, ‘You have control!’ As I looked over, I could see a green light bathing the cockpit around his seat. He said that he had been exposed by a laser light to his right eye and he was having trouble seeing out of it. As we only had about 30 seconds to land, we continued the approach and landed safely.”

Captain, Boeing 767

The aviation industry around the world faces a continued and growing threat from laser attacks. An aircraft on final approach at 1,000 feet has less than one minute before it reaches the threshold of the runway and touches down. A pilot struck by a laser can be blinded for about 10 seconds, followed by over a minute of impaired vision.

ACPA’s position:

  • ACPA supports all initiatives — including the Minister of Transport’s recent social media campaign — to raise awareness of this problem.
  • ACPA believes all pilots in Canada should have the benefit of a more robust and formal educational program that explains the risks and best techniques for mitigating laser attacks.
  • ACPA encourages the inclusion of Class IIIB and Class IV lasers to the Prohibitive Weapons List so that law enforcement is empowered to confiscate lasers without having to wait for it to be used maliciously. We do not believe there is a practical application for these devises.
  • The Canadian government should consider imposing even stricter fines and stronger sentences for individuals charged with these malicious offences.

Laser strikes are more prevalent

This phenomenon first emerged in the 1990s, where malicious individuals would target aircraft with hand-held lasers. Since then, technology has significantly improved the power and reach of hand-held lasers, and the internet has dramatically increased their availability.

In 2015, nearly 600 laser strikes were reported to Transport Canada. In 2016, that number already stands at 148 from just January to April.

Penalties are there, but enforcement is difficult

In Canada, offenders can face $100,000 fines, up to five years in prison or both.

However, enforcement is difficult, especially in heavily populated areas near urban airports. This is further complicated by a pilot’s inability to determine an accurate location from which the laser strike originates as it could put vision at greater risk.

The ease with which lasers can currently be obtained from international markets via the internet makes any sanctions or restrictions on their use extremely difficult to enforce. It makes sense to treat these devices as weapons and strictly control access to them.

The risk to pilots, passengers and the public

Aircraft are especially vulnerable during the critical phases of flight — take off and landing — when pilots need to apply maximum concentration.

Any distraction to a pilot’s attention during these phases is dangerous. To introduce an intense light into a darkened flight deck is extremely dangerous. A laser beam can be refracted through tiny abrasions on the exterior of the cockpit windscreen and thereby illuminate the entire flight deck.

Protection of their vision is a critical concern to pilots, who must pass ongoing medical and visual acuity tests throughout their entire careers. There has been one documented case — so far — of a pilot who suffered direct laser burns to one eye and had other vision problems. Thankfully the flight landed without incident, but the pilot was permanently blinded and thus lost all flight qualifications.

 

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