For anyone working in the aviation industry, the news that a Virgin Atlantic flight had to turn back to London Heathrow after one of the pilots suffered an eye injury due to a laser pointer aimed at the cockpit is distressing – but certainly not surprising. This has become a growing problem, and is especially worrying now that the lasers used vary from harmless presentation laser pointers to laboratory-strength lasers that can blind. In the US alone, there are now more than 5,000 reported incidents a year, and more than 1,400 incidents in the UK. Virtually all professional pilots have either experienced it themselves, or know someone who has.

The damage a laser can do to the human eye is well understood. When it strikes the eye, the parallel laser light beam is focused onto a small area of the retina at the back of the eye, where the energy intensity is sufficient to cause temporary or permanent damage. Obviously, a pilot with even temporary eyesight damage is potentially unable to safely manage their aircraft and perform a safe landing.

Striking aircraft with a laser should be treated as a criminal act, and certainly in the US hefty prison sentences are being handed out. In Britain, while shining a laser at an aircraft is illegal, their legal system doesn’t seem to have yet properly grasped the severity of these actions and although some jail sentences are handed out, too many receive conditional sentences and token fines of just a few pounds.

At least we’re attempting to get it right here in Australia with tough regulations relating to pointers over 1 milliwatt. Hopefully the rest of the world will follow suit. In my opinion there is virtually no reason to own a device with a higher output than this.

Here’s some actual footage of a laser strike on an aircraft. You can see for yourself how dangerous this can be. I would love to hear your opinion on this one gang.

See you next time,

Pete – Precision.

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