FAA Says Laser Strikes Continue To Rise

The administration reports that more incidents have been reported already in 2021 than in all of 2020, most since 2016.

Trying to tag an aircraft with a hand-held laser is a federal crime. [Photo: AOPA]

Reports of dangerous laser strikes continue to increase around the U.S., with the number of reports made so far this year already surpassing those reported for all of 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Monday.

As of October 14, the FAA said it had received 7,186 reports of laser strikes, which marked the highest number of reports since 2016.

The tally also represents about a 27 percent increase in reports in the span of three years, according to FAA data.

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot and, not only affects the crew, but also endangers passengers,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.

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Number of Laser Strike Events Reported to the FAA, by Year
Year Events
2010 2,773
2011 3,574
2012 3,482
2013 3,946
2014 3,889
2015 7,329
2016 7,383
2017 6,747
2018 5,663
2019 6,136
2020 6,852
2021 *7,186
* As of October 14

Earlier this month, the FAA confirmed that laser strikes had increased to a “dangerously high rate” at airports across the U.S.

In the past decade, laser strikes have been responsible for at least 198 reported injuries, according to FAA data.

The increases in laser strike reports stem from a number of factors, according to the agency, and include:

  • An abundance of inexpensive laser devices available for purchase online and in stores
  • Stronger power levels that enable lasers to reach aircraft at higher altitudes
  • Proliferation of green lasers, which are more visible to the human eye
  • Increased awareness by pilots who are reporting incidents

Trying to tag an aircraft with a hand-held laser is a federal crime under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, carrying a penalty of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple violations.

While the hand-held nature of laser strikes means they are often difficult to prosecute, the FAA has had some success. Since 2016, the FAA has collected $600,000 in fines, including at least $120,000 in fines issued in 2021.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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