Twenty aircraft hit with lasers overnight. What's the FBI doing?

In the past 24 hours, 20 aircraft were hit by laser beams as they flew over the US, the FAA reported. The pilots of three planes near Dallas reported being hit by laser beams on Wednesday evening. 

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Los Angeles Police Air Support Division helicopter pilots listen to law enforcement agents, as they announce a 60-day FBI campaign, 'Don't Let a Prank Lead to Prison, Aiming a Laser at an Aircraft is a Federal Crime,' to publicize the problem of pointing lasers to aircraft, during a news conference at the Los Angeles International airport in Feb. 2014. The FBI announced it will offer rewards up to $10,000 for people who report others for shining laser pointers at aircraft. A handheld laser can temporarily blind pilots who sometimes need to depend on their vision for orientation.

A laser beam coming from an area near Dallas hit three inbound planes on Wednesday evening, raising new concerns over the dangerous practice that can distract or temporarily blind pilots.

Later on Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration said that 20 aircraft had been hit with laser beams in the US during the past 24 hours, according to Reuters. 

One laser came from an area 11 miles southeast of Dallas, said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. He said a law enforcement helicopter was sent to the area to investigate.

The laser hit a Southwest Airlines plane, Virgin America plane, and a private business jet that were all preparing to land at Dallas Love Field. Mr. Lunsford said the planes were at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 feet.

Meanwhile, New York police have arrested a suspect who allegedly pointed a laser at an NBC news helicopter while it was flying over Brooklyn on Wednesday. A reporter on board the helicopter used a camera to zoom in on two suspects, who were seen standing behind a building in Prospect Heights.

Police took the two people into custody and arrested one of them.

The illegal use of laser pointers to distract pilots has sharply increased since federal officials first started keeping statistics in 2005. The FAA announced that it received 5,352 reports of “lasing” between January 1 and October 16. It estimated that by the end of the year there will have been a total of 6,850 incidents, a 176 percent increase from 2014.

Pointing lasers at aircraft became a federal crime in 2012. Offenders face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine in addition to civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation. 

Last year, the FBI launched a public information campaign and began offering $10,000 rewards to try to deter people from pointing lasers at airplanes.

Although no crashes have occurred as a result of lasing, Christine Negroni, a freelance aviation reporter, said the federal government needs to do more to address the problem.

“They take this name-and-shame approach like 16-year-old juveniles are watching the news and learning from it,” she said in an interview on the Runaway Girl Network podcast in August. “They’re using yesterday’s technology to tackle tomorrow’s threat, or today’s threat, and it’s been unsuccessful.”

Ms. Negroni added that offenders “don’t watch the news” and therefore “need to be reached out on their level. And that level is like a Facebook level or a Twitter level, where people are actually going to learn.”

The FAA said laser strikes were reported overnight by other aircraft in New York, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Sacramento, Newark, New Jersey; Jamestown, New York; Oakland, California; Covington, Kentucky; Danville, Kentucky; Palm Springs, California; Ontario, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; Springfield, Illinois and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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