An investigation into the incident, at Porto Airport in Portugal on September 5 2015, has highlighted the lack of legislation in Portugal covering the targeting of aircraft with lasers.
The probe into the incident was delegated by the Portuguese authorities to the Irish Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit as Ireland is the ‘state of registry’ for the incident aircraft.
The incident flight was a scheduled service from Lille in France to Porto Airport in Portugal. Shortly after 9pm the Boeing 737-800 was on its final approach when the co-pilot, who was the pilot flying, was distracted by a green laser light being shone towards the aircraft.
The laser was not pointing directly at the aircraft, and then disappeared from view, leading the co-pilot to believe that it had been switched off.
However, shortly after establishing on the final approach track, a laser was directed towards the aircraft from the same area but this time illuminated the cockpit. The co-pilot put his left hand up to shield his eyes.
The commander, who was acting as pilot monitoring and was 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 following exposure to a light flash of extremely high intensity. The effects may last for several seconds to a few minutes.
As a result, flight crew co-ordination was compromised which led to the final descent being delayed and the approach becoming unstable.
The co-pilot reported that his vision had not been affected. The laser was seen operating from an area close to the centre of Porto, which he stated was a ‘common occurrence’.
While there are strict laws in Ireland that deal with the targeting of aircraft with lasers, it is not an offence in Portugal to illuminate an aircraft with a laser or other bright light. As a result, the investigation unit has made one safety recommendation, that: “The Portuguese 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.”
A spokesman for the investigation unit said: “A safety recommendation was made in our report to the Portuguese civil aviation authority. As per European and Air Accident Investigation Unit requirements, [we] will track response from the Portuguese authorities and will populate the Safety Recommendation Information System which is the European database for safety recommendations.”