Increase in laser pointers aimed at planes raises concerns for pilots

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 2:34 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:03 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Federal Aviation Authority is reporting an increase in lasers being pointed at planes in the Charleston area, and it’s raising concerns for both the FAA and pilots.

According to the FAA, there have been 79 laser incidents reported in South Carolina by October of 2021. In 2020, there were only 49 incidents by October with a total of 71 for the whole year.

Charleston ranks number one for the highest number of laser strikes in the state.

The Regional Administrator for the FAA’s Southern Region Michael O’Harra says numbers are up three to four times what they were in previous years with 31 incidents reported in 10 months in 2021.

O’Harra says about half of the laser incidents are at or below 3,000 ft..

“That’s when pilots need to be focused on their departure procedure, or their arrival procedures,” O’Harra said.

Airline pilot First Officer Corey Brown says the experience is uncomfortable and dangerous for pilots.

“You both have to duck down below the glare shield of the aircraft to make sure you’re protecting your eyes,” Brown said. “So you do lose a bit of situational awareness depending on which phase of flight that you’re in, and that can be dangerous in and of itself. It’s just such a bright light that illuminates the entire cockpit, and it really hurts your eyes if it does get you in the eyes.”

Chief of Safety at Joint Base Charleston Nicole Stenstad says the United States Airforce is also seeing an increase in laser incidents, with 169 reported this year alone.

All incidents are reported to the FAA, where they try to narrow down the location of where the laser came from. In some instances, they also work with local law enforcement.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense, and fines for doing so can be upwards of $30,000

O’Harra says the community can report any information on laser incidents to: laserreports@faa.gov

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