(NEW YORK) — After nearly 9,500 laser strikes were reported against aircraft last year, U.S. officials are calling on manufacturers to warn customers of potential risks.
The acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Billy Nolen, wrote to laser manufacturers and distributors on Thursday asking them to add or enhance warning labels on their packaging to increase consumer awareness of safety risks and federal laws when using lasers.
“Lasers may seem like just [a] toy, office tool, or game for most, but they can incapacitate pilots putting thousands of passengers at risk every year,” Nolen wrote in the letter, obtained exclusively by ABC News.
Experts agree: Laser strikes can distract pilots and even lead to temporary blindness.
“The problem with lasers fired into cockpits is the possibility of flying blind with not only one pilot, but possibly both,” ABC News contributor and former commercial pilot John Nance said in an interview. “And for those moments, to have a laser flashing your eye and distracting you, even if it doesn’t blind you, it’s extremely dangerous. If you do this enough, over time, we’re going to have a disaster.”
The total laser strike reports for 2022 were down slightly from a record high seen in 2021, when the FAA said it was aware of more than 9,700 incidents.
Since 2010, 277 pilots have reported injuries from laser strikes, according to data from the agency.
“Placing information directly in the hands of individuals ensures everyone knows the risk – and the penalties – of pointing lasers at aircraft. If you already have a warning on your packaging, the FAA asks that your company increase the warning’s prominence,” Nolen wrote in his Thursday letter.
Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts violates federal law. Individuals may face up to $11,000 in civil penalties per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple incidents.
Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Last year, a paramedic aboard a Utah medical helicopter was temporarily blinded after the chopper experienced a laser strike, according to local officials. The helicopter was transporting a patient at the time and was able to land safely.
In late January, a Florida grand jury indicted a man for allegedly pointing a laser at U.S. Coast Guard and Miami-Dade County Police helicopters. The complaint accused him of intending to continue pointing a laser at the helicopters and telling that intention to law enforcement officers.
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