UK Ministers consider licensing laser pointers amid concern for pilots

UK Ministers consider licensing laser pointers amid concern for pilots
A laser was directed at a police helicopter.

Politicians in the UK will look at new measures to tackle the rogue use of laser pens amid concerns over attacks on pilots and train drivers.

Airline pilots have expressed concern about the regulation of laser pointers, given the commonly-available devices can cause eye damage and in some cases render people temporarily blind.

While no concrete proposals are on the table, the Government has said it will consider a range of ideas to boost safety, such as licensing for retailers and shoppers, and restrictions on advertising.

Licensing schemes already exist in countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States.

It comes after two British tourists were threatened with fines for allegedly pointing laser beams at passenger planes arriving in Malaga, in the south of Spain.

Business Minister Margot James, launching an eight-week call for evidence, said: "Public safety is of the utmost importance and we must look carefully to make sure regulations are keeping up with the increased use of these devices.

"Whilst we know most users don't intend any harm, many are not aware of the safety risks and serious health implications of shining laser pointers directly into people's eyes.

"Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

"That's why we want to hear from business groups, retailers and consumers about the best way to protect the public from this kind of dangerous behaviour and improve safety."

Shining lasers at aircraft can incur a fine of up to £2,500, however measures to make it easier for police to prove the offence were dropped from the government's legislative programme after the general election in June.

Some 466 laser incidents were recorded between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2016, according to the British Transport Police, while the Civil Aviation Authority has also said 1,258 laser attacks were reported on aircraft in the UK last year.

Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, said: "Startling, dazzling and distracting a pilot at a critical stage of flight has the potential to cause a crash and loss of life.

"This is especially a problem for helicopters, which operate close to the ground and are sometimes single-pilot operations.

"There is also a growing concern that, as the power of available lasers increases, the possibility of permanent damage being caused to pilots' and passengers' eyes increases."

A survey of UK ophthalmologists reported more than 150 incidents of eye injuries involving laser pointers since 2013, the vast majority of these involving children.

A British Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said: "We welcome the call for evidence. Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and it is a criminal offence to do so.

"Anyone convicted of shining a laser at an aircraft could face a significant fine or even imprisonment should the safety of an aircraft be endangered.

"While these laws are already in place, we believe strengthening legislation to restrict ownership of laser pens would help enhance efforts to tackle the issue.

"We strongly urge anyone who sees lasers being used in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately."

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