11 Commercial Flights Were Targeted By Lasers

The Federal Aviation Administration said that 11 commercial flights reported lasers being pointed at them as they flew over New Jersey Wednesday night, according to CNN. About half of the incidents were close to Newark Liberty Airport, and the rest occurred throughout New Jersey — in Robbinsville, which is near the Pennsylvania border, to Ocean City, in the southeast corner of the state, according to CNN. These are what the FAA calls "laser attacks," and they aren't rare. The attacks happen on average 11 times per day, so for 11 attacks to happen within a few hours is very unusual, according to CNN.

Three flights from American Airlines, two from JetBlue, and one each from United, Delta, and Republic reported being targeted, according to CNN. Five planes told air traffic controllers at the Newark Liberty tower that lasers were being pointed at them between 10 and 11 p.m. Wednesday, according to CNN. The pilots reported the incidents about six miles out from the airport, according to ABC News. The exchanges between the pilots and the air traffic controllers are a bit out of the ordinary:

"Just for your information, there’s someone shooting a laser about four or five miles back off our back wing,” one pilot told Newark's control tower, according to ABC News.

“That just happened again?” the tower responded.

“Yes, about four to five miles back," the pilot said. "They lit us up pretty well.”

Then, a flight coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, reported another laser sighting: "American 1976 checking in with you, and we just got the laser also, here at 3,000 [feet]," the pilot told the Newark tower, according to ABC News.

Pointing a laser into a cockpit is a federal offense with a maximum five-year prison sentence or a $250,000 fine. Despite that, some people make a sport of shining them up at passing commercial aircraft, according to CNN. The FBI launched a campaign in January to help stop people from focusing potentially blinding lasers at airplanes. It will offer as much as $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of an individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft, according to ABC News.

There were no injuries or problems reported from the laser attacks Wednesday night, but the FAA said it is investigating some of the incidents. Because powerful handheld lasers are easier and cheaper to obtain nowadays, laser attacks are on the rise, the FAA told CNN. There were 3,960 strikes reported in 2013, while there were only 283 in 2005.


What laser deviants don't understand is that their seemingly harmless pastime can actually put the lives of commercial airline passengers in serious jeopardy. On its website, the Transportation Security Administration details just what a laser in a cockpit is like for pilots:

When aimed at an aircraft from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots. Those who have been subject to such attacks have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night.

Lesson learned: lasers are for practical jokes and playing with cats — not for pointing into the sky at pilots.

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