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Danger to aviation growing from misuse of lasers

Oct. 13, 2011, Brussels, Belgium – Eurocontrol urged the European Union to criminalize the malicious use of lasers to blind pilots and air traffic controllers _ a growing problem in both Europe and the United States that experts warn could lead to a crash.


October 13, 2011
By The Associated Press

Topics

Oct. 13, 2011, Brussels, Belgium – Eurocontrol urged the European Union to
criminalize the malicious use of lasers to blind pilots and air
traffic controllers _ a growing problem in both Europe and the
United States that experts warn could lead to a crash.

The air traffic agency said Monday there were 4,266 such
incidents in Europe last year, compared to just 1,048 in 2008. In
the U.S., the number of incidents nearly doubled from 1,527 in 2009
to 2,836 last year.

A total 120 airports in 32 European nations have been affected,
Eurocontrol safety expert Dragica Stankovic said.

"Preventing and mitigating the current problem requires a
harmonized approach throughout Europe," she said. "We need the
full involvement of regulators, judicial authorities, police,
airlines and their associations, air navigation service providers,
laser manufacturers who must understand how serious the problem is,
as well as research institutes."

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Interference with commercial airlines is already a federal crime
in the U.S. and in some European nations such as Sweden and Austria.

But most EU states don't have such laws.

Typically, after police find and arrest the attackers, they will
just question and then free them, Stankovic said on the sidelines of
a conference dedicated to the problem and involving the EU
Commission, the U.N. aviation agency ICAO, airlines' and pilots'
associations, as well as national police authorities.

Incidents of laser interference generally involve people
directing powerful laser beams at aircraft on take off or on the
final landing approach, the most critical phases of flight when
pilots need to be their most alert. In several recent cases, pilots
flying the aircraft have been forced to hand the controls over to
their co-pilots after being temporarily blinded.

While the so-called green lasers now in use can temporarily blind
pilots, the more powerful blue lasers which are now commercially
available could cause permanent vision impairment, Eurocontrol
warned.

Helicopters, such as police and ambulance or rescue choppers, are
especially vulnerable to laser attacks because they fly at lower
altitudes than airliners. There have also been instances when lasers
were directed at air traffic control towers.

Eurocontrol says that because of the potential danger posed by
the handheld devices, which are readily available and cost just a
few hundred euros, they should be subject to the same restrictions
as firearms.

"The best solution is to have a harmonized approach across
Europe based on an EU directive," Stankovic said. "EU legislation
should cover the purchase, the carriage and the use of laser,
exactly in the same way as for handguns, rifles and other weapons."

Politicians in other European nations also have been calling for
tougher laws to punish individuals pointing lasers at aircraft
cockpits. In Germany, Volker Kauder, head of the ruling Christian
Democrats' faction in parliament, said last week that high-power
lasers should be reclassified as weapons and included in the
country's Arms Act.

The idea of dazzling pilots by shining searchlights at an
aircraft originated in military circles back to the 1930s. The
technique was used during the Second World War and also during the
Berlin Airlift.

"What is different now is the fact that such devices _ powerful
enough to affect aircraft or control towers _ are now readily
available to anyone, not just the military," Eurocontrol
Director-General David McMillan said.

"Even worse, there is a willingness to use them, either
maliciously or recklessly," he said.


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