British Airways Boeing 747 Targeted With Laser Landing In Washington

A British Airways Boeing 747 was reportedly hit with a laser strike as it approached Dulles International Airport over the Memorial Day weekend. The incident, which occurred on Saturday 25th May, is being investigated by the FAA and Montgomery County Police Department. The aircraft landed safely.

BA 747
A British Airways 747 was hit by a laser. Photo: Mark Scarratts via Flickr

It seems not a week goes by when we don’t hear about another laser strike. Just days after a WestJet pilot was injured in a laser strike, another incident has occurred in the US.

This time the strike involved a BA 747 jet, heading to Washington Dulles over the Memorial Day weekend. Thankfully the pilots were not reported to be injured and the flight managed to land safely.

What happened?

A British Airways Boeing 747-400 was operating BA flight 293 from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles. It was flying at around 5,000 feet above the town of Dickerson when its pilots noticed green beams of light in the night sky.

British Airways 747
The British Airways 747 was just over Dickerson when the incident occured. Photo: Nathan Coats via Flickr

WLJA reported that the control tower announced to all inbound Dulles flights:

“Attention all Dulles arrivals, laser event reported about five minutes ago at 5,000 feet, just south of Hoosier intersection on the 19 Center localizer. Green laser reported about five minutes ago,”

The Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland were subsequently alerted and were dispatched to a location in Dickerson to investigate. However, the location was semi-rural, being a farmers field, and the perpetrator was not identified.

The British Airways 747 landed safely and no injuries were reported.

FAA investigating

While laser strikes aren’t uncommon, they are taken very seriously by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As was seen in the case of the WestJet incident, injuries and even permanent blinding can be caused by shining a laser at another person, even at a pilot thousands of feet away.

Laser strike
Laser strikes can temporarily blind pilots. Image: Air Combat Command

The FAA sent Simple Flying the following statement regarding the incident:

“British Airways Flight 293 reported that a green laser illuminated the Boeing 747 aircraft as it headed to Dulles International Airport about 9: 55 p.m. on Saturday, May 25.  The flight landed safely, and no injuries were reported. The flight departed from Heathrow Airport. The FAA notified the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. The FAA will investigate.”

Are laser strikes increasing?

Although we are certainly seeing something of a flurry of laser incidents recently, the general trend of strikes is a downward one. According to the FAA, pilots reported 5,663 incidents over the course of last year, down 17% over the year before. However, in 2006 there were just 384 strikes.

The FAA put the massive increase between 2006 and today down to a couple of issues. Firstly, more people own laser pointers, many being given to kids as toys who perhaps don’t understand the implications of shining them upwards. Secondly, there is now a much greater awareness of laser danger, and therefore the number of reports has soared perhaps not in line with actual activity.

Either way, the FAA remain positive that improvement are being made, although they continue to treat laser strikes very seriously. The FAA told Simple Flying,

“Aiming a laser at an aircraft creates a serious safety risk that violates federal law. High-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that often carry hundreds of passengers. The FAA and law enforcement agencies are working hard to increase public awareness of the dangers posed by lasers. As shown in the chart below, reported incidents of lasers aimed at aircraft have decreased in recent years. However, the substantial number of reported incidents clearly show that laser strikes on aircraft remain a serious threat to aviation safety.”

FAA laser incidents per year
FAA laser incidents per year. Source: FAA

The FAA’s interactive map shows the reported laser strikes over the last year. It also notes which color lasers were used, with green being the predominant hue.

FAA laser strikes map
FAA laser strikes map. Source: FAA

Fines for laser strikes on aircraft can be as high as $11,000 per targeted plane and jail time is also possible. However, as we often see, the biggest challenge is often simply catching the person responsible.