The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now offering up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone who points a laser at an aircraft.
The new program is being launched because of an atmospheric rise in incidents: Since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2005, deliberate targeting of aircraft by people with handheld lasers has increased by more than 1,100 percent. Last year there were a total of 3,960 laser strikes reported—about 11 incidents per day.
Several commercial pilots last year suffered burned retinas due to the attacks.
“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions.”
The reward program, which will run out of 12 FBI field offices and work in cooperation with state and local law enforcement, will run for 60 days.
“The risk associated with illegal and inappropriate laser illuminations is unacceptable. Pointing lasers at aircraft in flight poses a serious safety risk to the traveling public,” said Air Line Pilots Association International President Captain Lee Moak. “Since ALPA successfully urged lawmakers to make laser illuminations on aircraft a specific federal crime, laser targeting of aircraft is now a violation of both federal and civil laws with real penalties, and we will advocate for our FBI and FAA partners to vigorously pursue anyone who misuses these devices.”
The FAA said that the laser strikes can temporarily blind a pilot, yet most attacks don’t see a perpetrator brought to justice.
It goes beyond teens messing around, as lasers have been noted as an easily accessible and unconventional terrorist weapon. In October, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force jumped into the investigation of laser strikes on planes at LaGuardia Airport.
The first conviction for laser pointing netted a Southern California man 2 1/2 years behind bars in 2009 for pointing lasers at two Boeing planes as they were landing. Some arrests, though, have included people saying they were just stargazing from their backyard.