The FAA Recorded Almost 7,000 Laser Strikes Last Year

In 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded an increase in laser strikes targeting airplanes, despite the decrease in flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shining a laser at an aircraft poses a serious safety threat, and the FAA is trying to tackle the issue.

Delta B767
There has been an increase in the number of laser strikes in the US. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The number of laser strikes in 2020

Since 2006, the number of laser strikes has continuously grown, according to the FAA. A number of factors explain the increase, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices and the stronger power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes.

Steve Dickson, the FAA administrator, said in a statement,

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot and not only affects the crew but endangers passengers and the communities they fly over every night.”

In 2020, pilots reported 6,852 laser strikes, up from 6,136 in 2019. Additionally, the number of incidents reported in 2020 was the highest annual total since 2016, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worldwide, there are no numbers on the subject, but it is a widespread issue. Earlier this year, an Air New Zealand flight was targeted with a laser on approach to Whangarei. Also, a laser attack forced a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner diversion in London.

Laser incidents happen worldwide. Earlier this year, there Air New Zealand reported one. Photo: Getty Images

How are we doing in 2021?

Disruptive passengers and laser incidents seem to be two issues on the rise in the United States. So far, in 2021, the FAA has had 4,090 unruly passenger reports, with 2,999 being mask-related incidents. The FAA is tackling both issues with hefty fines.

Between 2006 and 2020, the number of laser incidents has been 60,413, according to the FAA. That’s an average of 4,027 incidents per year. 2016 was the year with the highest number of incidents, with 7,398.

So far, until July 31, 2021, the FAA had 5,078 laser incidents in the United States. That’s an average of 725 per month, and if that trend continues, 2021 will be a record year in laser incidents, with 8,700.

In the last decade, California ranks #1 in the United States with 11,198 laser events. Additionally, 24% of all reported incidents occur at or below 3,000 feet above ground level. Data shows that laser activity gradually builds throughout the week until peak activity between Fridays and Saturdays.

What penalties can face people shining a laser at aircraft?

The FAA definitely doesn’t want people pointing lasers towards aircraft. It is trying to minimize the risk and asking pilots and crewmembers to report laser incidents as soon as possible.

Additionally, the FAA is working closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Together they are pursuing civil and criminal penalties against people who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft.

The FAA stated,

“People who shine lasers at aircraft face FAA fines of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple laser incidents. The FAA has issued $600,000 in fines since 2016, which includes $120,000 in 2021. Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”

What do you think about this issue? What other measures can the FAA take to end the problem? Let us know in the comments below.