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How the Met investigate laser attacks on aircraft

by Scott Gibbons Metropolitan Police Service

I am Scott Gibbons and I am a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Service attached to Aviation Policing. I have been involved in the laser threat project more than seven years and have developed specialist knowledge around the subject on behalf of the UK Airport Police Commanders Group, who I report to. I sit on the UK Laser Working Group as well as being a point of contact for the airlines, BALPA, CAA, NATS and airports to name a few of the stakeholders in this particular subject.

I have been approached to provide you with a policing update in relation to laser strikes on aircraft.

Firstly, I would like to say “thank you” to all of you who report these incidents to the police all over the country. I can assure you that we are aware of the commercial pressures that crew can be under, especially when you have very little time to turn the aircraft around. Your input is vital. We rely on you reporting these events to us, so in turn we can record them correctly and try to identify offenders as well as target hotspots.

Understandably, there is a reluctance in the pilot community to say that your aircraft was in danger, but the reality of changing course, handing over control, looking away from the controls and disruption of sterile cockpit procedures is all good evidence for this offence that demonstrates potential rather than actual danger.

These are crimes that are being committed against you and should be reported as such.

This also provides us with vital evidence to prove the offences are taking place, which could otherwise be difficult to do.

We are aware just how serious these events can be. While injury is unlikely, it is a possibility. The majority of the incidents we see are ‘distract or dazzle’ and these can be equally as dangerous, especially when you are at a critical phase of flight such as final approach, dealing with poor weather or any type of emergency.

We work very closely with the National Police Air Service (NPAS) and always notify them of these types of incidents as they are our best chance of catching the culprits.

There are two main offences that the police use to prosecute under the Air Navigation Order: Article 137/2009 – endangering safety of an aircraft and Article 222 – lights which dazzle or distract. The latter was brought in when we had around 30 laser strikes per year nationally.

But last year alone, the CAA recorded 1,439 laser strikes across the UK.

The government is now exploring further possible legislative options to address the increasing number of incidents.

As a result of the feedback we have had from the pilot community, as of 1st April 2016, Aviation Policing has been recording all laser attacks on aircraft as the more serious offence of aircraft endangerment. Some other forces have decided to adopt this approach as well.

This means that every report coming into us is recorded and pilots are treated as victims of crime, receiving regular contact and updates from the investigation team.

Detectives then carry out a primary and secondary investigation and the results are fed back to the pilot and a reference number is given. In practice, this should mean little difference to the time it takes to make the report, although we may want to take further details.

Location is key to us. The more precise the location is, the more likely we can identify ‘hot spots’ and target resources where they need to be with the intention of catching the suspect. While there is merit in filling in a form and handing it over, our default position is that we will attend the aircraft to gather evidence for the primary investigation.

What does the future look like? The UK Laser Working Group is currently working on how best to use technology to make reporting easier; discussing options for future legislation with the government and developing enforcement education packages for judiciary, police officers, public and pilots.

Mitigation such as protection goggles, is talked about a lot and while it seems that there is nothing viable at this moment in time, there are companies working on this as I write.

Having raised awareness of the issue of laser strikes with the government and police nationally, we are confident that progress is being made.

If there is anything I can help with or if you have any questions or ideas that you think will assist, I am happy to be contacted on scott.gibbons@met.police.uk

Thanks again for your continued support. It is vital in our work to tackle this menace.