Newark flights targeted by lasers: Why is 'lasing' problematic for aircraft?

Pilots have reported more than 2,700 incidents of lasers interfering with aircraft so far this year.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
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,' during a news conference at the Los Angeles International airport Feb. 11, 2014.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced an investigation into reports of green lasers being targeted at 11 commercial flights flying over New Jersey, shining a light on a problem that regulators say can be a major danger to aviators. 

The incidents happened on Wednesday between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and most of the flights were destined for Newark Liberty International Airport, authorities said. No injuries were reported from the lasers.

Powerful hand-held lasers can create beams that travel at the speed of light for more than a mile and into cockpits distracting or temporarily blinding pilots. The FBI says pilots who have had lasers shined at them have described it as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night.

“Lasing” incidents can be especially dangerous because they typically occur during takeoff or on approach to landing, when an aircraft is close to the ground and flying at fairly low speed, the Monitor’s Brad Knickerbocker previously reported.

While no aircraft accidents have been blamed on laser strikes, reports of incidents have grown steadily as hand-held lasers have become cheaper and more available and pilots have become more aware of reporting procedures for “lasing.”

Officials said more than 2,700 laser events have been reported nationally this year.

Federal authorities have cracked down on the issue in problem areas across the country, releasing information to the public and offering cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest of people suspected of shining lasers at aircraft.

In 2012 shining lasers at aircraft became a federal crime that carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the FAA can impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each violation.

The penalties aren’t just for show. Last year, a man in California was sentenced to 14 years in prison for targeting a laser beam at a police helicopter and a New York City man could be sentenced to up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to using a laser on commercial planes coming into and out of LaGuardia Airport.

New Jersey was also the site of a widely publicized “lasing” case in 2005, where current GOP presidential hopeful and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prosecuted a man for shining a laser at a helicopter under federal anti-terrorism laws while he was in his backyard pointing out stars to his daughter.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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