lasers.jpgThe Bay Area tied with Greater Los Angeles for the region with the most reports of lasers pointed at aircraft last year, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said today.

There were 201 reports at seven local airports, with 80 incidents alone reported at Mineta San Jose International Airport, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Gregor said San Jose’s 80 offenses was the third highest number reported at a single airport nationwide, tied with Phoenix, Ariz.

“We saw that airports at which planes have to fly over densely packed urban areas had higher incident numbers,” he said. “This certainly applies to the Bay Area. And, generally, the area has agreeable weather, making it a prime candidate for laser usage.”

Increased lasers pointed at aircraft, Gregor said, is not just specific to urban areas. Reports nationwide almost doubled in 2010 from the previous year to more than 2,800, according to the FAA.

“I think that the increase is, in large part, due to the vigorous outreach to pilots – we have urged them to report any incidents, and they have been very diligent,” Gregor said.

The FAA created a formal reporting system for lasers pointed at aircraft in 2005. Since then, reports have soared, Gregor said.

“Another factor is the increased availability of lasers on the Internet. They have become a lot cheaper,” he said. “And their ability to hit pilots’ vision at higher altitudes has improved.”

Gregor also cited the release of green laser pointers, which he said are much more visible, as a reason for the dramatic increase in reported offenses.

“Fortunately, we have had no serious accidents from laser blindness,” Gregor said. “But pilots have reported temporary vision problems and, in some cases, have had to seek assistance or delay landing until the blindness subsides.”

In order to prevent another climb in 2011, the FAA will continue to partner with local law enforcement and maintain outreach programs with pilots to discourage further laser targeting.

Punishment for laser offenses generally remains in the hands of local law enforcement, but Gregor said that offenders have served federal sentences of up to 28 months in prison.

“It’s really dangerous,” Gregor said. “It’s not funny… and if people think they can shine lasers and not be caught, they are mistaken.”

Kristen Peters, Bay City News

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