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A United Express Embraer E175 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ben Suskind)

Laser Strikes Against Aircraft Increased in 2020

Amid the COVID-19 global health pandemic, air traffic worldwide saw a historic drop. Airlines parked thousands of their jets and furloughed employees. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that, even as the number of aircraft in the sky plummeted, laser strikes against aircraft in the U.S. increased in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Laser strikes against aircraft are a serious safety hazard. Viewed through the windshield of an aircraft, a laser is not just the tiny dot most are accustomed to seeing from a laser pointer. Rather, the laser can highlight scratches and other imperfections in the windshield, which causes a blinding glare effect for pilots. The effect is not just a mere distraction. Rather, it can be disorienting and potentially catastrophic during critical phases of flight such as takeoff and landing.

Despite the drop in air traffic seen during 2020, there were 716 more laser strikes against aircraft during the course of the year as compared to 2019, according to statistics from the FAA. 2020 saw 6,852 reported laser strikes against aircraft. In 2019, 6,136 laser strikes against aircraft were reported.

The 6,852 laser strikes against aircraft reported in 2020 is not only an increase over 2019, but it’s also the highest reported number of laser strikes against aircraft since 2016. That year, there were 7,398 reported laser strikes against aircraft. Also troubling is the fact that the 2020 numbers represent the second year in a row that has seen an increase in laser strikes after both 2017 and 2018 saw a decrease in laser strikes against aircraft.

The FAA continues to stress the ongoing need to raise awareness about laser strikes against aircraft, putting emphasis on the fact that in 2010, only 2,837 laser strikes against aircraft were reported according to the FAA. The stark increase from 2010-2016 became an increasingly public battle for the agency, and it had hoped that the falling figures in 2017 and 2018 signaled it had begun to make progress on the issue. But the past two years have shown how quickly that progress can be undone.

The serious safety risk posed to aircraft by laser strikes is recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. federal law. In 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act made it a federal crime to point a laser at an aircraft. Additionally, the FAA maintains a robust suite of information on its website to raise awareness of the risks of laser strikes against aircraft. The FAA also encourages the reporting of all laser strike incidents as soon as possible.

Jordan Green
Jordan Green
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