Laser strikes against pilots reach record high in 2023

In 2023, there were more than 13,000 reports of laser strikes on pilots across the United States, including 916 reports of laser incidents in Florida, according to the latest report from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last year’s report marked a record high with a 41% increase from the previous year. FAA said 94% of the strikes happened in the early morning, and 34 pilots reportedly suffered an eye injury because of the strikes.

In Northeast Florida, the bulk of recorded laser strike incidents occurred in Hillard, which is home to one of the nation’s busiest air traffic control centers.

According to aviation experts, helicopter pilots are more susceptible to laser injuries because the helicopters have more windows for a laser to penetrate.

“Most helicopters only travel about 500 to 1000 feet up. It’s a lot slower of a target, and some people will hit that versus an airline,” Sky-4 pilot Clifford Summers said.

Aviation expert Ed Booth is also an aviation attorney with decades of experience as a fixed-wing pilot.

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“I have testified as an aviation expert in federal court on a couple of occasions at the sentencing hearing of people arrested for pointing laser pointers primarily at police helicopters,” Booth said.

Although laser strikes happen against airplane pilots, Booth said, there has never been a documented airplane crash caused by a laser.

“There are reports or claims of laser interrogations of airplanes cruising eight miles up at 41,000 feet, going 500 mph, being illuminated by a handheld laser on the ground,” Booth said. “I don’t think that’s possible or credible. There might be a brief green flash in the cockpit but it’s not hurting anything.”

Booth and Summer said airplane pilots are likely to get a laser strike directly in the eye during take-off or landing or while flying at a lower altitude compared to when they are at high cruise altitude.

“I’ve been lasered three times. It’s very jolting when it happens because you go from darkness to really bright to really dark again,” Summers said.

Even if someone is using a laser at night, that won’t prevent them from being caught because police helicopters are equipped with forward-looking infrared technology cameras.

So, no matter how dark it is, that person’s body heat will be detected on screen.

Summers believes that some people intentionally point lasers at aircraft not realizing the dangers behind it.

Anyone arrested for pointing a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft in flight can face fines that start at $11,000 and increase to $30,000.

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