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Editorial: July-August-September 2015

Over the past couple of years, Helicopters western correspondent Paul Dixon and I have had spirited conversations with RCMP Sgt. C.V (Cam) Kowalski about the shocking rise in the number of laser attacks against Canadian rotary and fixed-wing pilots.


July 29, 2015
By Matt Nicholls

The discussions were disturbing, and frankly, I’m appalled at the stupidity and lack of awareness, understanding and respect individuals that partake in such incomprehensible activities have for the pilots, crew and members of the public at large.

Laser strikes on aircraft are on the rise and it’s a disturbing trend. In 2014, there were 502 reported incidents, which represents a 43 per cent increase from two years prior. So far this year, there have been 282 strikes across the country.

Laser strikes against aircraft are not unique to Canadian skies. Last year, the FBI launched a national information campaign, offering a $10,000 reward in helping identify perpetrators. Since the FBI began tracking laser strikes in 2005, statistics reflect a more than 1,100 per cent increase in in the deliberate targeting of aircraft by people with hand-held lasers.

The severity of these criminal acts is wide-ranging: high-powered lasers can permanently scar a pilot’s vision for life, stealing their career and livelihood. On a grander scale, a laser strike on an aircraft places the lives of those in the cockpit – and innocent citizens on the ground –in grave danger for a potentially horrendous accident. And while pointing a laser at an aircraft is a criminal offence – if convicted, under Canada’s Aeronautics Act an offender could face up to $100,000 in fines, five years in jail or both – there are those that continue to put pilots, and the general public, in the line of fire.

Kowalski has taken a leadership role in putting an end to these reprehensible acts. His work, as well as those of his team members at the RCMP, NAV CANADA and the Vancouver International Airport, has been invaluable and, in early June, more support came from the federal government. Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors) and Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, launched a national awareness campaign to shine light on this critical issue and explain – and it’s incomprehensible to me that the word “explain” needs to be attached to something like this – why shining a laser at an aircraft is not a good idea.

“It should be a no-brainer that pointing lasers at any part of an aircraft is dangerous,” Wong noted. “This awareness campaign will help Canadians better understand the serious risks and consequences of pointing a laser at an aircraft. By working closely with our partners, we can help to reduce the number of incidents at Canada’s airports.”

Craig Richmond, president and CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority, reiterated the need for safety in and around major airports. “At YVR, our number one priority is safety,” he said. “We are working with our partners to increase education and awareness about the impact of laser strikes.”

The federal government’s campaign is based on a multi-phase approach. The first phase provides the public with information that clarifies specific dangers and consequences of pointing lasers into airspace and how incidences can be reported. The second phase, to be implemented this summer, includes digital advertising, awareness videos and a direct mail campaign near three major airports.

Transport Canada (TC) has also launched tc.gc.ca/NotABrightIdea, which provides Canadians with information to better understand the dangers of pointing a laser at an aircraft. TC is also working with police, other government departments, and the aviation industry to protect pilots, passengers, and people on the ground. They are encouraging all citizens that if they see a laser pointed at an aircraft, to report it to their local police.

“Suspects who choose to target aircraft with lasers show a careless and wanton disregard for the safety of the pilots, passengers and the communities surrounding airports,” Kowalski said. “Those caught will be prosecuted according to both federal and provincial acts and will be subject to substantial fines and jail time.”

The federal government’s campaign to eliminate laser strikes is an important step in working to eliminate these despicable acts. Let’s hope it lights a fire under citizens from coast-to-coast and shuts the blind on those whose only purpose is to destroy, corrupt and harm.


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