A Virgin flight had to turn back last night after an incident with a laser beam. The aircraft was operating flight VS453 from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv, Israel, when a laser struck the cockpit. Out of an abundance of caution, the crew turned back to Heathrow, landing safely at the airport an hour and a half later.
Laser aimed at cockpit
VS453 is the regular four times a week evening departure from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion. It is operated by the airline’s 787-9 Dreamliners, and on this occasion, was being flown by G-VDIA, also known as Lucy in the Sky.
The flight, which usually takes around four hours to complete, had departed Heathrow as planned at 21:30 GMT. However, the aircraft’s cockpit was hit by a laser beam on departure, causing a distraction to the pilots and a danger to the flight.
The Aviation Herald reports that the captain was becoming ‘increasingly challenged’ following the attack. Out of caution, the pilots decided to head back to London. The flight declared a ‘pan-pan’ to ATC and turned about over Paris to return to its origin.
Virgin Atlantic told Simple Flying,
“On 15 March 2021, flight VS453, operating from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, returned to Heathrow after take-off due to a laser beam incident upon departure. The safety and security of our people and our customers is paramount, and this was a precautionary step taken by the operating crew.
“We’d like to thank our customers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused. All customers were offered overnight accommodation, and we are working hard to ensure they are able to continue their journeys as soon as possible. As is standard procedure for a laser incident, we swiftly notified the police and remain in close contact with them and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).”
The aircraft landed safely back at London Heathrow at 22:45.
Laser attacks are growing less common
Laser attacks on aircraft are not uncommon, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. According to the CAA, there were 775 reported laser incidents in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. The majority of these occurred at London Heathrow, with Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham and London Luton making up the top five locations for reports.
Shining a laser at an aircraft can be highly dangerous. Indeed, the Evening Standard reports that a male pilot flying a civilian aircraft over Oxfordshire was left with burn injuries to his eye after such an attack. The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) says that 42% of its members have experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months.
However, the figures are moving in the right direction. CAA figures show that 2018 was the lowest year in almost a decade for laser incidents, down from a peak of 1,912 reports back in 2010. New laws passed in 2018 now mean perpetrators of laser attacks on any sort of aircraft can be given an unlimited fine, imprisoned for five years, or both.
It seems the message is slowly but surely getting out there.