2010-09-09 / Local & State

More Lasers Being Aimed At Aircraft In Western Pa.

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Officials in western Pennsylvania say the number of cases of people pointing lasers into aircraft cockpits has risen sharply this year, possibly because of greater access to the devices – and those responsible may not be aware of the danger to pilots or aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration received 17 reports of such incidents in the Pittsburgh in the first eight months of the year – as many as in all of the last five years. That has officials concerned, even though they say no major crashes in the United States have been blamed on lasers.

“Nevertheless, when individuals use lasers maliciously or improperly, it’s a threat against aviation safety,’’ FAA spokesman Jim Peters said.

Green lasers were flashed into the cockpits of two Pittsburgh-area medical helicopters last weekend.

At 9:10 p.m. Aug. 28, officials said, a laser went into the cockpit of a helicopter flying a 5-year-old boy injured in a bicycle accident to Children’s Hospital. An hour later, a green laser lit up the interior of another helicopter flying a 65-year-old man who injured his head in a fall to UPMC Presbyterian. Neither pilot was injured.

“It could have been kids goofing around, they thought it would be funny,’’ STAT MedEvac spokesman Dan Nakles said. “Maybe they didn’t think about what could have happened. You hope it wasn’t intentional. You hope nobody meant to do it in that manner, but you don’t know.’’

Peters said only one injury from such an incident has been reported in the Pittsburgh area since 2005. On May 6, 2008, a pilot of a military aircraft reported slight blurring in his eyes after someone shined a laser into his cockpit.

Federal authorities think the sharp increase in reported incidents could be due to drop in price of hand-held lasers, the ease of ordering them online and the presence on the Internet of instructions on how to build a laser.

Shining a laser into a cockpit is a federal crime, and a person convicted of interference with air navigation can face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Officials say malicious use of a laser device that interferes with a flight crew could also be prosecuted under the Patriot Act.

In California, a man convicted of shining a laser at two airplanes, temporarily blinding one pilot, was sentenced in November to 21/2 years in federal prison.

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