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Laser illuminations of aircraft have become increasingly common and can pose a real threat to their safety of operation and the passengers on board. ECA therefore welcomes the US Federal Aviation Administration initiative to interpret their current legislation in order to help authorities tackle attacks on aircraft by laser illumination. ‘Shining a laser into the cockpit is not a joke’ Randy Babbitt said, it will cost the offenders up to $ 11,000. Every Federal State had different laws, if any at all. But now the FAA offers a common harmonised approach to offences in the US territory. A similar response is needed in Europe.

The current situation shows that very few European countries have specific legislation on unlawful laser illuminations. Some use their criminal or aeronautical codes; others do not feel competent at all to address these offences.  Therefore the European Commission has to take the lead and propose a common European legislation.

While lasers are designed for use by professionals - who use this technology with appropriate safety measures - they can be purchased without any licence and misused. Some of these lasers are very powerful indeed. However, even the smallest when directed at the cockpit during the landing phase of a flight may cause distraction and seriously hinder the safe operation of the aircraft and can cause serious damage to the eyes of pilots.

In order to give an impetus to the legislative process, Eurocontrol will be organising a workshop  between the 10th and 11th of October and will be supported by members of ECA’s Security Working Group. This event aims to enhance the awareness of the safety risks generated by laser illuminations. In order to have a comprehensive overview of the situation Eurocontrol has invited laser manufacturers, users, police, justice departments, airports, airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers. ECA has great expectations and hopes that interested parties will agree to regulate this area to ensure an EU-wide, effective protection and regulation against laser attacks.

Pilotsvictim of laser illuminations should follow these guidelines developed by the International Federation of Airlines Pilots’ Associations – IFALPA:

Recommended actions in the event of laser illumination

  •         Look away from the laser beam and shield your eyes if possible.
  •         Determine if other crew members are also exposed. If not, consider handing over the control of the aircraft to the nonexposecrewmember.
  •         Engage the autopilot.
  •         Turn up the cockpit lights to minimise any further illumination effects.
  •         Inform ATC.
  •         Avoid rubbing of eyes (risk of inducing a corneal abrasion).
  •         Fill in an Air Safety Report (ASR).
  •         If any visual symptoms persist after landing, get an ophthalmologic examination.

For more information please consult the IFALPA medical briefing leaflet on ‘The effects of laser illumination of aircraft’