Aviation Authority warns of dangers of distracting pilots as 31 reports of lasers aimed at aircraft

There have been 31 reports of laser beams deliberately pointed at aircraft in Irish airspace so far this year.

Pilots have reported flash blindness, glare, and even being distracted at critical stages of flight due to the interference.

The IAA said the safety of an aircraft could be affected by having a laser pointed at it, especially if it was at a critical phase, such as landing or take-off. Thankfully, most reported laser incidents in Ireland were found to have a low safety impact.

The activity is not exclusive to Ireland and occurs worldwide, and other countries have been told to take initiatives appropriate to their airports and operations.

The IAA pointed out that the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 prohibits the dazzling of aircraft and makes laser attacks an offence. Where appropriate, details of the laser incidents reported to the authority are forwarded to the gardaí.

Since the legislation was introduced, there has been a significant decrease in the number of laser incidents reported by Irish pilots in Irish airspace to Irish Air Traffic Control. There were 153 laser incidents in 2014 and 134 last year. It is likely that the number of such incidents will have fallen again by the year end.

However, Britain’s aviation regulator wants people found carrying powerful laser pointers to be arrested, even if they are not using them.

Chief executive of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Andrew Haines, said new legislation was needed to cut the number of laser attacks on aircraft.

He believes it is a tougher issue to solve than near misses involving drones because it is “a deliberate attempt to cause harm”.

In Britain, under the existing Air Navigation Order 2009, it is an offence to act in a manner “likely to endanger an aircraft”. However, it is difficult to prosecute people under this law because of the requirement to “find the person undertaking the task and... demonstrate intent”.

There is a lesser offence of shining a light at an aircraft, but the CAA boss called for the law to be strengthened so anyone found carrying a laser pointer can be arrested.

In an interview, Mr Haines said the authority and Balpa, the pilots’ trade union wanted the mere possession of high-powered lasers by individuals not licensed for them to be made a criminal offence.

The British government has insisted it is “looking to make changes” to control the sale and use of laser pens as soon as possible.

CAA figures show there were 1,439 laser attacks on aircraft in the UK last year - equivalent to almost four per day.

Heathrow airport was the most common location with 121 incidents, followed by Birmingham Airport (94) and Manchester airport (93). September was the worst month for attacks with 91, narrowly ahead of August when there were 88.

In July, two men who shone a laser pen into the cockpit of a police helicopter during a search for a missing person were jailed in Britain. The pilot was forced to take evasive action and call off the search.

A Virgin Atlantic flight was forced to return to Heathrow in February when the co-pilot reported feeling unwell after a laser was directed at the plane shortly after take-off.

Just nine days later, a British Airways service from Amsterdam was affected when a beam was aimed at the aircraft as it headed towards the west London hub.

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