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With the recent news that a Virgin flight to New York had to return to Heathrow due to an laser injury to the First Officer, is there more that could be done to protect Pilots from Lasers?
Virgin flight 25 (VS25) departed London Heathrow at 20:13hrs on Sunday evening when it was targeted by someone using a laser device just a few miles away from Heathrow. Further into the flight it had become evident that the First Officer had been injured as a result and it was decided to return to Heathrow as it was unsafe to continue the flight.
Laser attacks on aircraft have been increasing and just last year in Wales a man was jailed for shining lasers at aircraft climbing out from Bristol Airport.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) stated that:
“Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight” adding:
This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength.”
BALPA has called for the devices to be reclassified as offensive weapons.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) tweeted:
We strongly urge anyone who sees #lasers being used in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately
— UK CAA (@UK_CAA) February 15, 2016
In America, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has started the Laser Safety Initiative; working with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to pursue civil and criminal penalties against individuals who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft.
Another option is to create protection for Pilots from these attacks. Loughborough University have created a laser protective strip that can be applied to a facemask device. It has been used on police riot masks to protect from lasers being shown directly into the eye. Perhaps this technology could also be applied to aircraft windshields or some kind of protective glasses.
The law at the moment states that shining a laser at an aircraft is a criminal offence (endangering an aircraft) however owning and carrying one is not an offence currently. It’s certainly time that the sales of these devices be restricted for their genuine purpose only, as pointers in an education environment.
Tracking someone down who carries out one of these attacks is also very difficult due to the lack of ability to pin point the source in a built up environment. Lending even more weight to the reclassification argument as if you can’t justify why you have one, you shouldn’t have one.
It is clearly only a matter of time before a very serious incident, or even deaths occur as a result of the actions of idiotic individuals endangering aircraft and all those on board so clearly action has to be taken sooner rather than later.