An Australian regional government has moved to crack down on laser pointers following widely-reported incidents in which the devices have been used to distract and dazzle pilots on commercial flights.
New South Wales (NSW) will class the most powerful types of pointer as if they were firearms, with sentences of up to 14 years for those carrying such devices without a permit.
"It only takes a fraction of a second for a pilot to become temporarily blinded and that could have catastrophic consequences," said NSW premier Morris Iemma, quoted by Reuters.
"It is a gutless and cowardly act that could result in an horrific outcome."
A green laser pointer was reportedly trained on an ambulance helicopter over southern Sydney at the weekend, following earlier incidents in which airliners had to be rerouted by air traffic control due to dazzling.
Green laser pointers are available with higher output power than the ordinary red lasers typically used in presentations and so forth. It is the longer-ranging green devices which are seen as the main problem for aviation, and will henceforth require a permit to be carried.
Legitimate uses for the green lasers include the pointing out of stars at night using the brighter and more visible beam. They are also sometimes used by architects and other professionals.
Less-powerful red lasers will seemingly be treated more like knives than guns. Those found carrying ordinary red-beam devices without a valid reason - such as being a teacher - won't suffer long jail terms, but might be fined up to (AUS) $5,000, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report.
Laser harassment of aircraft is far from being a uniquely Australian problem - there have been widely reported cases elsewhere, especially in America.
The NSW measures follow similar plans in the less-populous state of Western Australia, and federal import restrictions on the more powerful devices. ®