WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The FAA announced Wednesday that in 2010, nationwide reports of lasers pointed at airplanes almost doubled from the previous year to more than 2,800. This is the highest number of laser events recorded since the FAA began keeping track in 2005.
"This is a serious safety issue," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations."
The lasers in question are "industrial strength," according to FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford.
"These are used by astronomers and researchers. They cost around $200 and have the capability of shooting up in the air five, 10 miles away. That makes it an issue tracking where they come from," he said.
Oklahoma airports reporting laser incidents:
Tulsa International Airport
Tulsa Riverside Airport
Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City
Lunsford said that when laser incidents are reported, the airport turns the matter over to police. There have been convictions and jail time served in some incidents.
"On a short, final into an airport, you don't want to have a distraction," he said. "The laser beam hits the cockpit window. It will light up the window almost like if you're in a dark room and someone takes a flash picture. "
There are no reports of crashes from laser flashes, but pilots have been temporarily blinded to the point where they had to turn controls over to co-pilots.
Why does it happen?
"A misguided sense of entertainment," Lunsford said, adding that a group of men in Memphis were found on top of a tall building, sitting in lawn chairs, drinking beer and using the lasers.
Their entertainment came to an end when they flashed a Memphis patrol car, he said.
The increase in reports is likely due to a number of factors, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet; higher power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes; increased pilot reporting of laser strikes; and the introduction of green lasers, which are more easily seen than red lasers.