Blinding Lights in the Sky

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Hannah Stubblefield
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Shining a laser at an aircraft may seem like a harmless act, but in reality, it poses significant dangers to both those on the aircraft and the surrounding community. Laser strikes on aircraft, often referred to as "lasing," have become a growing concern for aviation safety in recent years. This dangerous activity involves pointing a laser device at airplanes, helicopters, or other airborne vehicles; causing temporary blindness, distraction and potential long-term eye damage to pilots and crew members.

“When a laser beam hits an aircraft canopy, the light disperses and illuminates the cockpit momentarily, blinding the pilot’s visuals,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Miguel Gibson, 31st Fighter Wing flight safety manager. “Aircrew can also be harmed when lased directly in the eye causing permanent eye damage depending on the laser pointer’s output power.”

The 31st FW flight safety office, Carabinieri and the Italian Air Force are working together to build a process which notifies the local law enforcement of the laser perpetrator’s location. Additionally, this process will educate the community of the hazards associated with lasing an aircraft, help reduce lasing incidents and create a safer air space for both military and civilian aircraft.

“Laser jamming of air navigation is often classified as an attack on transport safety,” said Lgt Andrea Businello, ITAF Carabinieri commander, “Article 432 of the Criminal Code says: whoever endangers the safety of public transport by land, water or air is punished with imprisonment from one to five years. If a disaster results from the act, the penalty is imprisonment from three to 10 years."

Aviano Air Base flight safety office reported an increase in lasing incidents over the last year on HH-60 Pave Hawk, which is most likely due to the aircraft’s lower and slower flight path then the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

“Over the last year, we have had 13 laser strikes against our aircraft, mostly on HH-60s,” said Gibson. “By educating the public of the dangers of lasing aircraft we can help prevent unnecessary aircraft mishaps while keeping all aviators and the local community safe—which is our number one priority.”