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Dealing with laser attacks

by Steve Landells Flight Safety Specialist

Lasers, which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, being shone at aircraft has been an issue for BALPA members for a number of years. Whilst BALPA is working with a number of agencies (including the DfT, the CAA, the UK Flight Safety Committee and the police) to address this issue, we are still seeing incidents in the UK involving lasers being directed at aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, during all phases of flight. In fact there were 1258 reported laser attacks on UK aircraft in the UK in 2016.

The frequency of reported attacks, as well as the exponential growth in the power of readily available lasers lead us to believe that it’s only a matter of time until an aircraft is put in extreme peril as a direct result of a laser attack.

When a laser hits an aircraft, not only is it incredibly distracting, but if any of the light hits your eyeball, then you will experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:

  • Temporary vision loss – this can be associated with glare, flash blindness, blind spots, or after-images.
  • Glare (or dazzle) – is considered to be a temporary disruption in vision caused by the presence of a bright light within an individual’s field of vision and it lasts as long as the light exposure.
  • Flash blindness – in flash blindness, the temporary loss of vision persists even after the source of illumination has been removed
  • Blind spots – are similar to flash blindness, but only part of the visual field is affected
  • After-image – is an image that remains in the visual field after an exposure to a bright light

Any of the above symptoms, if experienced on the final approach to landing, could lead to a catastrophic event especially when combined with the inevitable distraction. If your aircraft is being shone at by a laser, it can be difficult to know what to do to try and mitigate the effects, and land the aircraft safely.

Our useful members’ guide to laser attacks, put together with the knowledge and expertise of the BALPA Flight Safety department, aims to inform pilots about what to do in the case of a laser attack. As well as detailing the different stages of how a laser event may impact a pilot, our guide also includes safety and mitigation advice for when you may be experiencing a laser attack.

The guide can be found here, and can also be downloaded for offline viewing. We strongly recommend reading the information provided in the guide, to ensure you handle the situation safely and efficiently should your aircraft ever be the subject of a laser attack.

As part of our ongoing campaign on the issue of lasers, we have also managed to secure new legislation on the misuse of lasers in a new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. The Bill is currently in the stages of being put to Parliament before it can become an Act of Parliament (law). BALPA will be giving written and oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee over the next few months to ensure the Bill is fit for purpose and tackles the significant flight safety risk from lasers.

You can read more about the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill here