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Disable and dump: pilots advise public as new laser laws go live

Pilots are urging members of the public to disable and throw away lasers as tough new laws come in to force today that mean anyone who shines such a device at an aircraft could face time in jail. The Government is bringing in new rules, that give police more powers and mean tougher punishments, in response to a rise in reports of laser attacks on aircraft.

Last year, 989 laser attacks on UK aircraft were reported to the CAA in our airspace and 243 overseas. That’s 1232 times that pilots were dazzled and distracted or, looking at it another way, lives were put in danger on average over three times every single day last year by laser wielding idiots.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has campaigned tirelessly for rules to prevent potentially catastrophic laser attacks and today the new law comes in to force that means it is a crime to shine or direct a laser beam that dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, air traffic controllers, pilots, captains of boats and drivers of road vehicles.

As well as widening the list to include air traffic facilities, offenders face much tougher penalties of up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. The police have also been given extra powers to catch those who misuse lasers and prosecution has been made easier by removing the need to prove there was an intention to endanger a vehicle.

Head of Flight Safety at BALPA, Dr Rob Hunter, said:

“The public needs to recognise that lasers are not toys and shining one at an aircraft endangers all those on board and anyone on the ground.

“The police now have greater powers, and anyone caught could face five years in jail.

“This legislation removes the need for police officers to establish proof of intention to endanger so people will find it much harder to hide behind the claim they ‘did it by accident’.

“If you have bought a laser for your kids or have one that you don’t really need, we suggest you take the batteries out and throw it away. It’s not worth you, or someone close to you, getting a criminal record for the sake of what is mistakenly believed to be a toy.”

Ollie Dismore, Director of Operations for the National Police Air Service, said:

“The National Police Air Service (NPAS) welcomes this change in legislation which will provide absolute clarity on the danger these devices present and how seriously attacks will be taken.

“While NPAS is often in the firing line, as an easy target in the night sky, I just ask people to think before shining their laser anywhere inappropriate.

“In the case of our aircraft we have to break off from the task we are on, in order to safeguard the crew, with obvious impact on the search or other task we are engaged in at the time. In the case of an airliner the consequences could be far more serious – it really is not worth the risk.”