June 18, 2014

Assembly Passes Legislation Prohibiting
Directing Laser Light Beam at Aircraft
Measure Cracks Down on Reckless Use of Laser Beam Devices, Violators Could Face Prison Time for Endangering the Lives of Airline Pilots and Passengers

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Steven Otis announced the passage this week of legislation to make it a crime to direct a laser light beam device at an aircraft. This prohibition would protect the lives of airline passengers and pilots who are too frequently being interrupted by sudden bursts of flashing beams of light during critical aircraft operations as landings and takeoffs.

"In the interest of the traveling public's safety and for the protection of pilots, we must crack down on this depraved activity," said Silver. "Misusing laser light beams in this way has the potential to cause so much loss of life and destruction that it cannot be dismissed as a mere prank. This legislation treats these dangerous actions for the serious crimes they are by cracking down on this threat to the safety of travelers, air crews and pilots."

These incidents occur when someone directs a laser light beam at an aircraft. Pilots report frequently of being disrupted by unexpected beams of light and experiencing a temporary loss of vision, all of which happen mostly during take offs and landings when their focus and skills are most in demand.

"Piloting an airplane is a highly skilled and demanding job that allows little room for error. Our intention with this bill is to spare pilots from these menacing interruptions so they can keep their attention exclusively on the safety of their passengers and flying the airplane," said Otis, the bill's sponsor.

The measure (A.8236-C) establishes a crime in the first degree, a class E felony with a prison sentence of up to four years, for individuals convicted of directing a laser at an aircraft that causes severe disruption to an airplane's operations and threatens the safety of the passengers and crew. The measure also creates a second degree crime, a class A misdemeanor, for directing a laser light at an aircraft.

According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of times a laser has been directed at an airplane has increased significantly from 283 incidences in 2005 to 3,960 in 2013. It also reports a 17 percent increase in aircraft and laser light encounters in the New York metropolitan area from 2012 to 2013. The growth in these incidents has been attributed to greater pilot reporting and increased availability of inexpensive, high-powered laser light devices.

Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a pilot program to deter people from pointing light lasers at aircraft and to establish a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of individuals convicted of directing a laser beam at an airplane.

In recognition of the many useful ways these laser devices can be used, the bill authorizes their continued usage for a range of other applications, such as public safety and test flight research that is conducted by the FAA, U.S. Department of Defense, Homeland Security, state and local emergency-rescue agencies and airliner manufacturers.