Regulations And You
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Shining Lasers at Aircraft Is a Serious Offence
by Jean-François Mathieu, L.L.B., Chief, Aviation Enforcement, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada
On Sunday, February 22, 2009, in the span of 20 min—between 19:10 and 19:30 Pacific Standard Time (PST)—the crews of 12 airliners landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport reported that someone was shining a green laser light into their cockpits. This type of event is symptomatic of a growing problem in the areas surrounding airports. In Canada, the problem is also present; the reported rate of occurrence of these incidents reached an 11-year high in November 2008. It appears that the problem may worsen, as some retail stores that offer these types of products reported that their fastest-selling product for January 2009 was the green laser pointer.
Laser technology was first developed in the 1960s, and now touches our everyday lives in many ways. According to Health Canada, these lasers are not dangerous if used with care. However, the brightness of the laser light can cause damage to the eyes of anyone looking directly into the beam, or it can cause temporary blindness-also called flash blindness. The latter condition is only temporary and a person’s vision usually returns to normal after a few seconds. That being said, these lasers are not toys, and shining a laser beam into the cockpit of any aircraft constitutes a serious offence and can jeopardize the safety of the flight. These incidents are of particular concern to all people on board, since they usually occur during the landing phase of a flight. A laser shone in an aircraft cockpit is a distraction for the pilots and can cause temporary visual impairment during the most critical phase of flight- scenario with potentially catastrophic results.
In a November 2008 article by the CBC, a representative of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada stated that these green lasers are likely the same powerful green light beams that astronomers use to pinpoint the stars during teaching sessions. He also said that these lasers can travel several kilometres and are easily obtained for a reasonable cost. In the same article, a spokesperson for a renowned pilot’s association said that they did not want this activity to become more widespread. He also said that their pilots are not too happy with the increasing frequency of these types of incidents.
As of November 2008, 62 incidents involving lasers had been reported for that year through the Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS), while only 21 were reported for all of 2007. Many other incidents are believed to have occurred without being reported. Transport Canada takes these incidents very seriously and will investigate and coordinate with the appropriate police agencies in order to prosecute offenders. For those intending to try this activity, be reminded that persons caught in Canada can be charged under the AeronauticsAct and, if found guilty, can be fined up to $100,000 or face five years in prison. They can also face charges under the Criminal Code of Canada, which can have serious consequences.
In order to apprehend the offenders and obtain the best evidence to prosecute, it is very important to have all incidents reported as quickly as possible after they occur. Therefore, Transport Canada recommends that pilots from all sectors of aviation who become victims of such activities report them immediately to ATC and local police forces.
In April 2000, Transport Canada, in conjunction with Health Canada, established an incident-reporting system to report laser strikes and any other incidents involving directed bright lights. In June 2008, this process was updated with the issue of AIPCanada (ICAO) Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) 24/08, which contains procedures for pilots to adhere to following exposure to laser and other directed bright light sources. Following these procedures will help pilots protect themselves during these occurrences. The AIC includes an incident report form, which should be completed and forwarded to the Chief of Standards, Aerodromes and Air Navigation as soon as possible after the incident. It is also advisable to inform ATC when such an incident occurs so that they may take whatever action is appropriate.
Good co-operation between all agencies is essential to successfully catch these offenders, and to reduce the number of these types of occurrences. Earlier this year, a 29-year-old Calgary,Alta., resident became the first person in Canada to be charged for endangering a flight by shining a bright light into the cockpit of an aircraft. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to forfeit his laser. This example of law enforcement shows what can be achieved when everyone cooperates to catch and prosecute offenders.We must work together to ensure that the rising trend of these events does not result in a serious incident. Transport Canada continues to work with various agencies to maintain a high level of aviation safety in Canada. Let’s remember that the first link in effective enforcement action is the timely reporting of these events by victimized aircrew. For more information, please visit: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/standards/aerodromeairnav-standards-ais-directed-bright-light-menu-1068.htm.
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