The Federal Aviation Administration has warned of a dangerous escalation in laser strikes on aircraft, with Wednesday night alone registering a record 20 incidents.
"Nearly two dozen aircraft were hit by lasers last night," the FAA reported. "Shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime. It can harm the pilot and passengers. If you see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, call 911."
Laser-wielding morons hit aircraft across the continental United States: New York airports were particularly badly affected, as were two airports in Kentucky. Three aircraft in final descent coming into Dallas Love Field in Texas also reported attacks. Thankfully no one was harmed.
There were some related arrests. In two cases, roving news helicopters that were also painted by laser pointers were able to track down the source, leading to the arrest of three people.
Flashing lasers at aircraft presumably seems like a fun idea to those that do it but it is also fantastically dangerous: a fact that is reflected in how seriously the FBI takes it. You can be fined up to $250,000 and face up to 20 years in prison for trying to illuminate aircraft and the FBI has offered a $10,000 bounty to anyone who lets them know when a dangerous idiot is on the loose with lasers.
Commercial laser pointers are unlikely to permanently blind pilots, but they can - and do - cause temporary flash blindness in the cockpit which could prove fatally distracting during a tricky landing.
Despite the warnings and the heavy penalties, it hasn't stopped a small number of people from carrying out the attacks. In fact the numbers are growing. As of October 16 the FAA reports there have been 5,352 cases of laser strikes on aircraft in flight. At that rate, it is only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens. ®