Laser attacks on pilots are on the rise records show

OTTAWA Pilots flying in Canadian skies are getting hit with blinding lasers more than ever sparking calls for a crackdown on a problem that experts say threatens passenger safety

Nationwide reports of aircraft getting hit with lasers was up dramatically in 2011 to 229 up from 183 in 2010 a 25 per cent jump And the trend shows little sign of abating A Transport Canada database records more than 100 reports of laser incidents so far this year

This is a nationwide flight safety concern said Capt Barry Wiszniowski chairman of the flight safety division for the Air Canada Pilots Association

Many of those are happening in the skies over Toronto as planes flying into Pearson and other area airports are getting hit with alarmingly frequency 36 times so far this year

In the last week three WestJet flights got hit flying into Pearson And the crew of an ORNGE air ambulance helicopter got hit while landing at an Ottawa hospital

WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer called the frequency of incidents shocking

We suspect the vast majority of people who are doing this sort of thing truly do not understand the potential consequences of their actions Palmer said in an interview They think its a joke its a lark

To shine a laser or anything for that matter at an aircraft in flight is an incredibly dangerous and incredibly stupid thing to do he said

Getting hit with a laser lights up the cockpit and for a pilot who looks into the beam the effect is blinding Thats a big concern because the incidents happen most often when the pilots are flying low for landing or in the minutes after takeoff

You can be distracted or startled during a critical phase of flight when you are maneuvering the aircraft close to the ground its a bad time to be distracted Wiszniowski said

While the immediate concern is keeping control of the aircraft for pilots there is also the worry of suffering a longterm eye injury that can keep them grounded

When a laser is shone into a flight deck there is a risk that one or both of the pilots could take that laser in the eye Palmer said

If there is damage to the eye it risks their livelihood They cannot continue as pilots he said

Thats why WestJet has contracted with a Calgarybased ophthalmologist to examine pilots who have suffered a laser strike to ensure their eyesight is okay In a sign of the extent of the problem the airline hopes to have eye specialists in place elsewhere across Canada

We want to have an individual identified in every major city so we can send that pilot right away to be tested Palmer said We think that being proactive like this is the right thing to do to protect our pilots

The culprit is typically a green laser which are often used by amateur astronomers to point out stars and constellations in the night sky But in recent years pilots have complained that pranksters are tagging their aircraft and trying to beam the lasers into their cockpits

While the incidents are reported to police offenders are rarely caught because of the challenge of pinpointing the exact source of the laser

However that wasnt a problem for Durham police officers when someone zapped their police helicopter with a laser in midApril The helicopter crew was investigating an incident on the ground when it was repeatedly struck by a laser interfering with the pilots ability to safely navigate the aircraft according to a news release issued by the force

The pilot was checked out at hospital after landing and later released Other officers were able to trace the incident to an Uxbridge home where they found a highpowered green laser

A 20yearold Uxbridge woman faces a long list of charges including mischief endangering life and assault with a weapon She was also charged under the Aeronautics Act with interfere with performance of duties of a crew member

Aiming a directed bright light at an aircraft cockpit is a federal offence under the Aeronautics Act and carries a maximum penalty of 100000 and imprisonment of up to five years

It jeopardizes aviation safety and these light sources are also hazardous to pilots and threaten passenger safety a Transport Canada spokesperson said in an email

The department has a website that warns of the dangers of aiming a laser at an aircraft However the department says it doesnt track convictions

But in the United States where there were a record 3592 incidents in 2011 federal officials have launched a crackdown on offenders who deliberately aim lasers at aircraft

The Federal Aviation Administration has directed its investigators to pursue the stiffest possible sanctions

Shining a laser at an aircraft is not a laughing matter Its dangerous for both pilots and passengers and we will not tolerate it US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement

Wiszniowski says hed like to see the federal government voice a similar tough stance to raise awareness about the dangers And hed like to see the courts dish out tougher sentences for those who are convicted

The judicial system in Canada has to come in line with other jurisdictions around the world in recognizing the threat to public safety that unauthorized illumination of an aircraft actually causes Wiszniowski said

The judicial system should apply the law to its maximum extent rather than softshoeing around the issue he said

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick echoed the concerns calling lasers a potential health hazard for pilots

It is appropriate that it be treated as a criminal offence and we therefore strongly support severe sanctions by the appropriate authorities he said

Date : 28 May, 2012
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