Wednesday 11 April 2012

Laser attacks on planes are surging, warn aviation officials


The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is warning of a global surge in laser attacks on planes after almost 2,000 incidents were reported in the UK last year. There were 153 incidents at Heathrow in 2011 involving lasers being shone towards aircraft. The second most affected airport was Manchester with 148 incidents, while Birmingham had 143 and Glasgow 107. Liverpool's John Lennon airport had 90 incidents. Throughout the UK last year, the CAA said there were a total of 1,909 incidents, whereas in 2005 there were just 20. At John Lennon airport, a crew member was temporarily blinded as the plane landed following a laser being shone into the aircraft. In October last year, a jumbo jet whose pilot was trying to correct an error after dropping to 300 metres (1,000ft) had a laser shone at it. Incidents in Liverpool peaked during a five-week period last summer, when there were 30 separate laser reports made by pilots who were passing over residential areas as they prepared to land. A CAA spokesman said: "We are currently seeing a global surge in incidents of lasers being deliberately shone at aircraft on final approach to airports. "The aviation industry and the police are doing everything possible to combat the problem and we strongly urge anyone who sees a laser being shone in the night sky near an airport to contact the police immediately." He added: "It's a serious problem and has been getting worse over the last three years. Largely due to the availability of lasers on the internet and the relatively cheap price." Since 2010, shining a laser or light at an aircraft in flight has been a specific criminal offence. The CAA said it needed the public's help to stop the potentially dangerous attacks and urged anyone to contact the police if they witnessed lasers being pointed at planes. The CAA said UK aviation enjoyed an "excellent" safety record because of an open culture of reporting incidents. A spokesman for John Lennon airport said incidents involving flights were few and far between. He said: "JLA is extremely proud of its safety record, which for the period 2007-2011 includes almost 400,000 aircraft movements, accommodating in excess of 25 million fare-paying passengers. "The report from the CAA relating to Liverpool John Lennon airport needs to be put into context as it will include all manner of incidents, many far less serious than others, as well as including incidents occurring away from the airport, but relating to aircraft that originated from here or heading to Liverpool." Ryanair and easyJet flights were targeted as they came in to land at Liverpool at altitudes as low as 150 metres (500ft). One pilot described how the laser "lit up the cockpit" and had a "significant impact" on the flight crew's night vision. An Airbus jet was targeted twice with the first officer's vision "impaired" by the strength of the beam. The captain of another flight needed a medical checkup after "a direct strike to the right eye". In February 2010, a 16-year-old was fined £250 after admitting to shining a laser pen, purchased on eBay for £8, into the cockpit of an easyJet flight from Belfast to Liverpool.