FBI cracks down on lasers aimed at aircrafts

(WJLA) - Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a felony and could send the offender to prison – yet it’s a growing problem that happens more than ten times a day as pilots attempt to land their aircrafts.

Now, the FBI is offering up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. And it isn't just the danger to the pilots, it's a risk for passengers as well as people on the ground.

In 2009, it happened to us. A Montgomery County man targeted NewsChopper 7 with a red laser, pointing it right at our pilot. He was eventually arrested and charged.

"I just saw the laser move right into my eyes, and I saw nothing but red in my eyes for a split second," described our pilot.

Most of the incidents happen when the aircraft is on approach – the most critical phase of a flight. And these handheld lasers are bright enough to light up an entire cockpit, and in some cases can even blind the pilot.

In fact, the FAA says there have been at least 35 instances where pilots required medical attention after a laser strike. The FBI is now taking the crime very seriously -- in part because the issue is getting worse.

According to the FAA, there were nearly 3,500 laser strikes in 2012; one year later in 2013, there are more than 3,900 – an all-time high.

In Washington alone, the number of cases grew from 29 in 2012 to 31 last year.

Washington is among the more than dozen cities where the FBI will be launching its new laser threat awareness campaign, which will include efforts to educate people about the penalties that come along with shining a laser at an aircraft.

According to the FBI, Since the FAA and FBI began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been an 1,173-percent increase in the deliberate targeting of aircraft by handheld lasers, and a total of 3,960 laser strikes were reported in 2013. This is an average of about 11 strikes a day.

Per the FBI, below lists the number of reported strikes nationally since the FBI began tracking the violation in 2005:

2005: 311
2006: 420
2007: 643
2008: 955
2009: 1,527
2010: 2,836
2011: 3,591
2012: 3,482
2013: 3,960

As for where these strikes tend to happen, the top 20 metropolitan areas with reported laser strikes from 2012 to 2013 include (in order of frequency): Portland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Juan, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Miami, Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix-Tucson, San Antonio, San Francisco, D.C., Charlotte, Albuquerque, Sacramento, and Cleveland.

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