The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it received 9,723 reports of laser strikes from pilots in 2021 – the highest annual number on record.
This represents a 41-per-cent increase compared with 2020, when 6,852 incidents were reported, and continues an upward trend which has seen laser incidents almost double from the 5,663 incidents reported in 2018, and more than triple the 2,776 incidents reported when records began in 2010.
Hawaii and the District of Columbia were the worst offenders per capita, reporting 10.45 and 10.24 incidents per person in 2021, followed by New Mexico (9.07), Utah (8.43), New Hampshire (7.83) and Tennessee (7.35).
In a statement, the FAA stated: “Shining a laser at an aircraft is a serious safety threat. Many types of high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots, many of whom are flying airplanes with hundreds of passengers. Pilots have reported 244 injuries since the FAA began recording data on laser strikes in 2010.”
Laser attacks on aircraft can result in substantial fines and other criminal penalties
The FAA also reminded the public that the offence can result in fines of up to US$11,000 per violation, and up to $30,800 for multiple strikes. Additional criminal penalties from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies can also be incurred depending on your jurisdiction.
The FAA issued $120,000 of fines for laser strikes in 2021 and encourages members of the public to report laser strikes to them and local law enforcement when encountered.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said: “The FAA continues to educate the public about the hazards of laser strikes because they pose such a serious threat to the safety of the pilot, the passengers and everyone in the vicinity of the aircraft.”
The FAA has created an online data visualisation tool which can be used to view laser strike data from 2010 to 2021, highlighting trends by geographic area, per capita data, time of day and year.
The statement by the FAA follows a similar appeal by the UK-based Magpas Air Ambulance, which said it hoped to raise awareness of the dangers of laser misuse after its helicopter was subjected to two separate laser attacks in November 2021.