Captain aborted landing over laser light

Irish air accident investigators have recommended that aviation authorities in Portugal review their current legislation after the crew of a Ryanair flight was targeted by a dangerous laser light.

During its investigation into an incident last year involving the Ryanair flight, the Air Accident Investigation Unit of the Department of Transport here was informed that it is not a criminal offence to shine a laser at an airport in Portugal. On September 5 last year, the captain of a Ryanair flight was temporarily blinded by a laser while on approach to Porto Airport in Portugal.

The co-pilot, who was the ‘pilot flying’ at the time, was not directly affected by the light but was ‘distracted’ by the incident which forced the crew to abort their landing.

The investigation unit investigated the matter and yesterday issued a report into the incident.

The aircraft was on a scheduled passenger flight from Lille Airport in France to Porto Airport with 160 passengers and six crew onboard. While on approach to Porto Airport, the co-pilot who was pilot flying, noticed a laser light from the city centre area. The laser was not pointed directly at the aircraft and then disappeared from view leading the pilot flying to believe that it had been switched off.

However, shortly after establishing the final approach track, a laser was directed towards the aircraft again and from the same area. On this occasion it illuminated the cockpit forcing the pilot flying to use his left hand to shield his eyes.

The commander, who was acting as ‘pilot monitoring’ and unaware of the laser, looked up at that moment and her eyes were struck by the laser light. She sustained ‘flash-blindness’ which is a temporary visual loss or impairment during and after exposure to a light flash of extremely high intensity.

Flight crew co-ordination was compromised due to the temporary visual impairment of one member and the distraction to the other. The crew informed air traffic control of the incident and opted to continue with the approach.

However, they found the aircraft was slightly above the ideal profile and its speed and rate of descent began to increase as the aircraft re- established on the descent path.

They realised that the approach had become unstable and the commander called for a ‘go-around’.

This ‘missed approach’ was called when the aircraft was about 275m above the ground. The flight re-positioned for a second approach and landed safely.

The commander told investigators her eyesight was only temporarily affected by the laser illumination, and that her vision returned to normal after a few seconds. The co-pilot reported that his vision had not been affected.

The investigation established that, of the 294 laser incidents in Portugal in 2014, 107 occurred at Porto while in 2015, when there were 264 such occurrences in the country, 105 happened at Porto Airport.

The investigation unit was also informed by the Portuguese authorities that it is not currently an offence to shine a laser light or similar at an aircraft in Portugal.

The investigation made a single recommendation, that Portugal’s civil aviation authority “should review the current civil aviation legislation with a view to taking account of occurrences of deliberate or reckless illumination of aircraft, or persons involved in the operation of aircraft, by laser light or similar”.

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