Pointing a laser at aircraft may be fun but it is dangerous

September 1st, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EE Publishers


Laser beam  hitting a windscreen of an aircraft. Pic by laserpointersafety.com

Laser beam hitting the windscreen of an aircraft. Pic by laserpointersafety.com

Pointing a laser beam into the sky is a dangerous game. It could hit the cockpit screen of an aircraft and cause flash blindness. That is exactly what happened to flight SA419 on Sunday night of 31 August 2014 when the cockpit crew were blinded by a laser beam. The pilot was preparing to land at Port Elizabeth airport and on the final approach with the runway right in front of the aircraft, a laser beam hit the windscreen The pilot  took evasive action and aborted the landing by applying full thrust and at the same time retracting the landing gear. The airbus soared up like a bird caught in an upward draught and overflew the airport.

I was on the flight and I must say it was exhilirating feeling that surge of power. I now understand why stunt pilots enjoy what they do when they take  their aircraft into a dive and then surge up again.

The cabin controller came on the public address system and asked passengers to remain seated and enjoy the view. I must say the lights of Port Elizabeth at night are quite impressive.  Shortly after the plane had levelled out, the co-pilot apologised for the sudden abortion of the landing and explained to passengers that a laser beam had been pointed at the aircraft and that they would circle and prepare for another landing. Ten minutes later the airbus landed safely.

Under certain conditions, laser light directed at aircraft can be a hazard. The most likely scenario is when a bright visible laser light causes distraction or temporary flash blindness to a pilot, during a critical phase of flight such as landing or takeoff. It is far less likely, though still possible, that a visible or invisible beam could cause permanent harm to a pilot’s eyes.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft has resulted in arrests, trials and jail sentences. It also had resulted in calls to licence or ban laser pointers.

While a laser has many useful applications, it is not a toy and should not be used for fun. In some countries the use of lasers is strictly controlled. In 2008 Australia’s New South Wales authority banned laser pointer possession, except by special permit, in an effort to reduce the number of laser illuminations of aircraft. The UK has also taken administrative steps to restrict the sale of laser pointers greater than 1 mW output. It is not clear what the South African position is.

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