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New UK laws to crack down on laser attacks

Shining a laser at an aircraft is both dangerous and reckless. Those tiny handheld devices are powerful enough to do permanent damage to the pilots’ eyes, dazzle or distract them during the most critical phases of flight, such as the take-off or landing. In other words: lasers endanger flight safety. But despite years of raising awareness and warnings about the dangers, the number of laser attacks on cockpits keeps growing. At the same time, Europe still lacks legislation or even a common approach to cracking down on the epidemic of the misuse of lasers. Meanwhile, the UK can pride itself with new a law – the Laser Misuse Act – which is an ambitious step to reducing the laser attacks on all vehicles, including planes.

From 10 July 2018, UK police officers will have greater powers to catch those who shine lasers at aircraft. This legislation removes the need for police officers to prove “intention of endangering”, so offenders can no longer hide behind the claim they ‘did it by accident’. In fact, irresponsible and reckless use of a laser would lead to a tougher punishment. The Laser Misuse Act foresees unlimited fines, a five-year prison sentence or even both. 

Europe still lacks legislation or even a common approach to cracking down on the epidemic of the misuse of lasers #aviation #safety

Because of the serious safety consequences, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is urging anyone to take additional precautions and to disable, scrap and recycle all unnecessary lasers. This is useful advice also for anyone living outside the UK and willing to contribute to flight safety: “If you have a laser and don’t have a legitimate reason for owning it, or if you have bought one for your kids, take the batteries out and throw it away”. Jail time is no joke, neither is the flight danger that lasers impose.

Outside of the UK however, few European countries are so advanced in their thinking. Laser attacks are not always considered ‘unlawful interference’, and the enforcement of existing rules and prosecution of offenders is limited. Some EU Member States use their criminal or aeronautical codes; others do not feel competent at all to address these offences. It is therefore clear that we need a common European approach on this important safety problem and we need it urgently. The UK’s rules may serve as a good starting point for other European countries. 

icao letter laser attacks
Laser illumination and flight safety - ICAO

In February 2018 ICAO Member States were urged to continue to raise awareness of the dangers of laser illumination of aircraft and indicate progress made to enforce applicable laws. States were also called to indicate their progress made in efforts to enforce the legislation and provision of penalties. Download the letter here