Laser pointers are legal, but pointing them at an aircraft is illegal and could cause an airline disaster.
Now, the federal government is doing what it can to protect pilots from laser pointing.
The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those who target aircraft with lasers.
“This is not a joking matter,” Dallas-based FBI spokeswoman Katherine Gilkinson Chaumont said last week.
East Texas Medical Center EMS Air One pilots said they have been hit with lasers, and the light can leave them temporarily blinded.
“When a laser hits the glass on the cockpit, it lights up and the entire area, and you lose your vision for a short period of time,” ETMC Air One Operations Coordinator Jim Spiers said. “In some cases the pilot can suffer more serious injuries to the eyes,”
FBI agent Chaumont said in the Dallas division, which includes Tyler, there were 90 laser strikes reported in 2013.
Laser strike reporting for 2013 in other Texas divisions was: El Paso — 25; Houston — 155; and San Antonio — 149. FBI analysis shows laser strikes happen most frequently between midnight and 7 a.m., with the greatest strikes occurring between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.
“In many cases, laser strikes are being committed by teens and adults between the ages of 35 to 45. Most do not comprehend the serious consequences of lasing and, in some cases, are unaware it is against the law,” Agent Chaumont said.
In February 2012, President Barrack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and added a new provision that makes it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. On the state level, violators also may be charged with illuminating aircraft with laser point.
Under federal law, knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony offense, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Under Texas state law, illuminating aircraft with laser point is a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine.
A key part of the publicity campaign is the reward money.
“We want to encourage people to come forward when they see someone committing this crime, which could have terrible consequences for pilots and their passengers,” said George Johnson, a federal air marshal who serves as a liaison officer with the Bureau on laser issues.
Last year, 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft were reported in the United States. It is estimated that thousands of attacks go unreported every year.
In East Texas, Spiers said his pilots have been targeted a few times, but thankfully there were no injuries or emergency landings.
However, because Air One pilots wear night vision goggles, Spiers said a lasering, as it is called, can be very costly.
“It damages the goggles, and each tube is about $10,000, so if a pair is damaged, we’re talking about $20,000.
Agent Chaumont said there have been two reported incidents in East Texas this year, one in Longview and another in Paris.
She said in January 2013, a 22-year-old Dallas man was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison after he targeted a Dallas Police Department helicopter, causing the pilot to suffer eye fatigue.
“In this case, the man said he just wanted to see how far it would go, and in a lot of cases, that is what people are doing, but it presents a dangerous problem for the crew and those on the ground under the aircraft,” she said.