Otis Bill to Criminalize Interference with Aircraft with a Laser Passes State Assembly

Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye) announced Assembly passage Monday of his bill that would criminalize interfering with an aircraft by shining a laser at the aircraft or in its flight path. A 8236-C would make such an offense a class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year in prison) or a more serious class E felony (up to 4 years in prison) if the laser causes a significant change in course or other serious disruption of the aircraft that threatens the physical safety of the passengers or crew.

When pointed at an aircraft, the intense and focused light of a laser, akin to a camera flash in a dark room, can temporarily blind a pilot or impair his or her night vision. Due to the fact that these laser incidences originate from a person on the ground, pilots usually experience these dangerous situations during critical and difficult operations such as takeoffs or landings. This endangers the lives of pilots, passengers, and people on the ground.

Otis stated, “Laser pointers are a growing danger to aircraft pilots. There has been a huge increase in laser pointer incidences over the past few years and something needs to be done to reverse this trend before a tragic situation results.”

Since the FBI and the FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been more than a 1,100% increase in the number of incidences with these devices. In 2005, there were 283 incidences nationally. By 2013, that number had grown to almost 4,000 incidences across the country. In metropolitan New York City, area airports experienced 99 incidences in 2013, up from 71 the year before. In addition, from 2012 to 2014, Western New York experienced 33 incidences, including 5 so far in 2014.

“Although this action has been illegal under federal law since 2012, oftentimes incidents at smaller airports outside the New York City area are ignored,” noted Otis. “This new legislation protects all New York airports, by allowing local law enforcement to prosecute offenders who put the lives of passengers and pilots in danger.”

The bill now moves to the State Senate where Senator James Sanders (D-Queens) sponsors with Senators Grisanti (R-I, Erie County) and Senate Majority Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R- Nassau). Assemblyman Otis vowed to work closely with his Senate colleagues to enact the bill into law this year.

“Aircraft safety is of paramount importance. The alarming increase in laser incidents involving in-flight aircraft seriously jeopardizes that safety and undermines public confidence in airline travel. We cannot wait for a tragedy to act,” said Otis.