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The Hidden Danger of a Green Laser

Why the Green Laser is a Scourge to Pilots


Commercial Aircraft

Laser Strikes Pose New Dangers to Air Travel

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Updated January 26, 2011

Who would have thought a little green laser could cause such a serious problem?

The U.S. government warned in 2010 that lasers, particularly the powerful green laser, was at best a nuisance and at worst a major risk to pilots and airline passengers.

Reports of lasers being beamed into aircraft nearly doubled in 2010 from the previous year, to more than 2,800 across the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

It was the highest number of laser events recorded since the FAA began keeping track in 2005.

Danger of Green Laser

The green laser is 20 to 30 times brighter than a red laser and can travel for miles. A green laser can temporarily blind pilots and, worse, cause damage to the human eye.

"This is a serious safety issue," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations."

Some cities and states have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft. Culprits can also face federal charges.

Studies cited by the FAA show that exposure to a green laser will cause retina damage in as little as 60 seconds, while no damage resulted from equally long exposures to a red laser pointer.

"The FAA is actively warning people not to point high-powered lasers at aircraft because they can damage a pilot's eyes or cause temporary blindness," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. "We continue to ask pilots to immediately report laser events to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement officials."

Reports of Green Laser Incidents and Other Laser Cases

In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport led the nation in the number of reported cases of lasers being beamed into airplanes, according to the FAA. It had 102 such incidents.

Following Los Angeles in the number of laser incidents were Chicago O'Hare International Airport (98); Phoenix/Sky Harbor International Airport (80); San Jose International Airport (80); McCarran International Airport (72); and Philadelphia International Airport (66).

According to the FAA, the green laser has been used in about nine in 10 such incidents in recent years.

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