Reporting Meghan McCorkell
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Laser pointers shined into the eyes of pilots in the air. The Feds are pushing for stiff new penalties against laser strikes.
A WJZ investigation brought the problem to light here in Maryland.
Meghan McCorkell has the new government warning.
The U.S. Transportation Secretary is sending a message: Anyone who endangers a pilot’s safety with a laser will face serious consequences.
A blinding light splinters across the cockpit. Someone on the ground is targeting pilots with laser pointers causing near tragedy.
“It can cause flash blindness. It can cause dazzle effect,” Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said.
Now, the federal government is pushing for stiffer penalties.
“I wonder how stupid people really can be. I wonder if people really understand that when they shine a laser in the eye of a pilot, it can cause great harm,” LaHood said.
The number of dangerous cases is on the rise nationwide. In 2010, more than 2,800 laser incidents were reported. Last year, that number skyrocketed to more than 3,500.
BWI has been listed in the top 20 airports in the country with reported laser incidents.
State police helicopters are also in the line of fire.
“Our pilots’ lives are put at risk because it can cause disorientation. It can blind them for a moment,” Elena Russo, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Police, said.
A WJZ investigation uncovered last year that eight State Police pilots were targeted.
“We could have lost the whole aircraft had it been a different situation. Or had damage to our eyes,” Gregg Lantz, a Maryland State Police pilot, said.
The government is now cracking down.
“People are going to be not only apprehended and arrested, but they’re going to be prosecuted,” LaHood said.
They could also face civil penalties. The fee for one laser strike is $11,000. For multiple strikes, it is the highest proposed penalty– more than $30,000.
It’s a high price to pay for a dangerous prank.
Nationwide, 28 people have been charged with aiming a laser at an aircraft in the past year. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating dozens of cases.
State and local prosecutors have also sentenced offenders. Some of those cases included jail time.