Assemblyman Otis and Senator Sanders Announce Passage of Their Bill to Criminalize the Directing of Laser Light Beams at Aircraft

Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye) announced passage of their bill that would make it a crime to interfere with an aircraft by shining a laser at the airplane or in its flight path. The legislation, S7418-A/A8236-C, would make such an offense a class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to 1 year in prison) or a more serious class E felony (carrying a prison term of up to 4 years) if the laser causes a significant change in course or other serious disruption of the aircraft, threatening 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. Given that these laser incidents 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 incidents over the past few years and something needs to be done to reverse this trend before a tragic situation results. By making this act a state crime we will be strengthening the hand of law enforcement to prosecute this reckless behavior.”

Sanders stated, “I am proud to have sponsored this very important legislation. JFK International Airport, the largest airport in New York State, is located in my district. This legislation will ensure that the 7 million passengers who use JFK each year, my constituents who live in the communities surrounding JFK, as well as all other New Yorkers who fly or live near an airport, will be safe from the danger caused by lasers pointed at in-flight aircraft.”

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 incidents with these devices. In 2005, there were 283 incidents nationally. By 2013, that number had grown to almost 4,000 across the country. In metropolitan New York City, area airports experienced 99 incidents in 2013, up from 71 the year before. In addition, from 2012 to 2014, Western New York experienced 33 incidents, including 5 so far in 2014.

“Although this action has been illegal under federal law since 2012, incidents involving smaller airports outside the New York City area are oftentimes ignored,” noted the lawmakers. “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 passed the Assembly on June 17th and was approved by the Senate on June 19th, the last day of the Legislative Session. The legislation now moves on to Governor Cuomo for his consideration.

The legislation was co-sponsored in the Senate by Senator Mark Grisanti (R-I, Erie County) and Senate Majority Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau). In the Assembly, the bill was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-North Brooklyn), Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside), John McDonald (D-Cohoes), Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) and Aravella Simotas (D-Queens).

Urging the Governor to act quickly to sign the bill into law, Senator Sanders and Assemblyman Otis stressed the paramount importance of aircraft safety: “The alarming increase in laser incidents involving in-flight aircraft seriously jeopardizes the traveling public’s safety and undermines their confidence in airline travel. We cannot wait for a tragedy to act.”