Friday, September 04, 2009

To the jackass(es) who were shining laser pointers into the cockpit of arriving traffic into Pearson one night last week, you should probably see a doctor to confirm whether or not you are mentally retarded. My money is on "yup".

It should be obvious that it's illegal in Canada to shine lights at aircraft in an attempt to make them crash and everybody on board die, but the max penalty is a surprisingly lenient 5 years in prison and/or $100,000 in fines.

That hasn't prevented morons from doing it though, and unfortunately the incidents are on the rise: In 2006 there were 3 reported incidents, in 2007 there were 25 and in 2008 there were nearly 60 incidents reported.

Sadly only one person so far has been convicted of this offence - some doorknob in Calgary in 2008, who sat on his apartment balcony and lased a Westjet 737 cockpit on takeoff and then lased the police helicopter sent to investigate. He later said he was sorry, was fined a thousand bucks and had his pointer confiscated.

Seriously, that scares the hell out of me - not only the worst-case scenario of losing control of the aircraft during landing and crashing, but also the thought of more extended suffering - having permanent retinal damage and losing my pilot medical and going blind and being helpless.

I see precious little difference between pointing a laser at an aircraft cockpit and pointing a stinger missile at an aircraft cockpit, and I hope that the seriousness of the situation is fully impressed upon whomever gets caught for this pointless and dangerous 'hobby'.


Steve at the Pub said...

Incidents of laser pointing would reduce dramatically if every person convicted of this received a jail term, with a mandatory 10 years (TEN YEARS) before they could be released.

Luke said...

A typical LED laser pointer isn't capable of causing eye damage at that distance: the beam optics just aren't that good. Even if I'm generous with my assumptions, the beam is at least 1 m wide by the time it reaches your cockpit.

When you factor in the difficulty of targeting a cockpit window, maintaining that target, and generally poor downward visibility, the risk, especially from some moron suburbanite kid with a keychain pointer, is less than it might at first appear. (Now, if you're worried about a terrorist using a high-quality laser and a tracking platform, that's a different story. I know the FAA uses a laser dazzler to protect the Washington prohibited airspace, but I don't know how it compares to a lab laser.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the behavior, nor do I think it's not dangerous -- these kids needs to be pistol whipped -- I'm just trying to give you a different perspective on the matter.

Sarah said...

I think you're completely right to worry about it. You can buy ridiculously powerful lasers online, like 100mWatt and up. To me, these are weapons, and any use against random targets should be treated exactly as if it were a rifle.

Believe it or not, I ran across a vendor at Oshkosh selling these lasers. He was rude and dismissive about my innocent inquiry about "what possible good use could these have?" .. which tells me he was probably getting a lot of sh** from pilots. Good. He said there were for emergency "flare" use.

Chris said...

Incidents like this were on the rise here in Australia, until they caught a couple of the dingbats doing it and made examples of them. Every six months or so there seems to be a repeat.

I've never experienced it in the cockpit - I've heard it described as being like a very bright strobe. Is that accurate?

Aviatrix said...

I have eye-issues the way some people have dentist issues. I almost have to be restrained for eye exams, and if someone has a laser pointer in a room or shines one at my outdoors I cover my eyes with my hands until someone I trust assures me that it's been put away.

I would imagine that most of the idiots with laser pointers are not trying to blind the pilots but rather are embarked on an extended game of "make a red dot." They've tired of making a red dot on the street and their neighbour's house. They can't make one on the moon, but for them it's a game of skill to try and make a red dot on an airplane. If they imagine the beam going inside the cockpit at all, they probably think of the pilots going "Hey, what's that dot?" as opposed to "You have control. I've just been dazzled by a laser."

I don't want to believe today's idle youth are callous enough to be sitting on their balconies trying to crash airplanes.

Steve at the Pub said...

Aviatrix I concur. But I still say throw the book at 'em!

Sarah said...

37 months in federal prison.

That sounds about right.