Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aviation Law "Pointers"

Of all things, laser pointers are an increasing threat to aircraft pilots.  Incidents of lasers pointed at airplanes and helicopters -- an activity that can temporarily blind or permanently damage eyesight -- doubled last year to more than 2,800, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.  The numbers: Los Angeles International had 102 reports, followed by Chicago O’Hare (98), with Phoenix Sky Harbor and Mineta San Jose logging 80 reports each.

Coming soon to those who aim their lasers at pilots for sport or otherwise: legally enforceable fines and up to five years in prison.

Both the United States Senate and House of Representatives currently are crafting laws to criminalize the act of aiming a laser pointer at the cockpit of an aircraft.

“Shining lasers at airplanes is not a game and places passengers and crew at risk,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who introduced the law. “With the increasing occurrence of these types of incidents, prosecutors must have strong tools to punish and deter this dangerous conduct.”  The law passed with a 96-1 vote, with Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) casting a negative vote on grounds the issues was for states to manage.

The House of Representatives is considering a companion law known as "
The Security Aircraft Cockpit against Lasers Act of 2011," which also calls for fines and imprisonment for up to five years.  Here is the main part of the proposed law:
This Act may be cited as the ‘Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011’.


(a) Offense- Chapter 2 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

‘Sec. 39A. Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft
‘(a) Whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

‘(b) As used in this section, the term ‘laser pointer’ means any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.

‘(c) This section does not prohibit aiming a beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, or the flight path of such an aircraft, by--

‘(1) an authorized individual in the conduct of research and development or flight test operations conducted by an aircraft manufacturer, the Federal Aviation Administration, or any other person authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct such research and development or flight test operations;

‘(2) members or elements of the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security acting in an official capacity for the purpose of research, development, operations, testing or training; or

‘(3) by an individual using a laser emergency signaling device to send an emergency distress signal.

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