If you point a laser at a plane, the pilot could be distracted or temporarily blinded when flying at night, which could cause the pilot to potentially crash the plane.
For that reason, pointing lasers at planes is illegal in most countries, with many countries giving out harsh legal and financial penalties to anyone who is caught pointing a laser at a plane.
In the U.S., the penalties for pointing a laser at a plane range from an $11,000 fine to prison time of up to five years
Table of Contents
- 1 What Happens to the Pilot If You Point a Laser At a Plane?
- 2 You Can Get in Big Trouble If You Point a Laser At a Plane
- 3 A Laser Can Cause a Plane to Crash
- 4 Everything Will Be Done to Find the Perpetrator
- 5 Real-Life Examples of People Pointing Laser At a Plane
- 6 It’s a Bad Idea to Point a Laser At a Helicopter Too
What Happens to the Pilot If You Point a Laser At a Plane?
Distraction and Startle
A laser could distract pilots during nighttime landings or takeoff, risking potential accidents.
The light could startle the pilot and possibly make them think there will be a brighter incoming light or other threat.
Glare and Disruption
A bright laser could easily interfere with the pilot’s vision, as a laser has an illumination of 1 lumen/m1, which is easily enough to affect a pilot’s vision at night.
The veiling glare would prevent the pilot from easily seeing outside the windshield.
Temporary Flash Blindness
The temporary flash blindness from a bright laser is similar to that of a bright camera flash.
A pilot’s vision may not only be temporarily disrupted, but they may also experience afterimages or temporary spots in their vision, which definitely isn’t ideal when they’re trying to fly a plane.
While unlikely, a high-power laser light could cause permanent eye damage.
The damage could be relatively minor, with just a spot on the pilot’s periphery of vision, or in more extreme circumstances, the spot could be in their central vision.
Worst case, the spot could cause permanent vision loss if the laser pointed at them was especially powerful.
You Can Get in Big Trouble If You Point a Laser At a Plane
According to the FAA, if someone is caught pointing a laser at an aircraft, they can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.
The FAA has imposed civil penalties up to $30,800 against people for multiple laser incidents.
Most countries have laws against pointing a laser at an aircraft.
For example, the United States has a federal law that doesn’t permit people to point lasers at an aircraft or in an aircraft’s flight path.
People who point lasers at airplanes or helicopters are often arrested and could face up to 5 years in prison.
Police can confuse laser pointers for laser gun sights and may shoot in the direction of a laser pointer, thinking it’s an armed individual attempting to shoot a plane.
Such shootings have previously occurred.
A Laser Can Cause a Plane to Crash
A plane could potentially crash because of a laser pointer.
The pilot could be blinded or distracted by the laser pointer’s light and make mistakes while landing or taking off, resulting in a crash.
In some situations, a laser light could disorient the pilot and cause them to input incorrect controls that cause the plane to stall or roll over.
The FAA claimed laser incidents were highest in 2021 with 9,723 laser incidents, which is an increase from the previous year’s 6,852 incidents.
Laser incidents rarely directly cause a crash, but they’re still dangerous.
Everything Will Be Done to Find the Perpetrator
Police usually track down people who point lasers at aircraft through the use of helicopters and ground personnel.
Once a person pointing a laser at the sky is reported, law enforcement will then track down the perpetrator.
They will check records, track cell phone telemetric data, use CCTV cameras, and question bystanders.
Real-Life Examples of People Pointing Laser At a Plane
In April 2022, a Philadelphia man received a one-year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine for pointing a laser at a police helicopter.
In September 2021, an Alabama man received an eight-month prison sentence for pointing a laser at a helicopter flown by the local sheriff’s office.
It’s a Bad Idea to Point a Laser At a Helicopter Too
Pointing a laser at a helicopter is at least as dangerous as pointing a laser at a plane.
Some argue that it’s more dangerous because helicopters fly at lower altitudes, so they feel more intensity from the laser pointer.
Helicopters also have more complex controls than airplanes, so a helicopter pilot being stunned by a laser pointer would be more likely to crash than an airplane pilot.
- Pointing a laser at a plane can damage a pilot’s vision and potentially cause them to crash.
- A laser pointed at nighttime can interfere with a pilot’s vision and could temporarily blind them like a bright camera.
- In such instances, the pilot is less likely to input correct controls or safely land or take off the aircraft.
- For that reason, pointing a laser at aircraft is illegal in most countries.
- There are heavy financial penalties and prison time for laser pointers in the U.S.
- Authorities across the globe use police helicopters and ground personnel to track people who point lasers.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.