Reports illuminate laser stupidity

Image: Netweb01 CC BY-SA 3.0

As Wallabies goal kicker Bernard Foley lined up for an attempt at goal in Buenos Aires a few weeks ago, the last thing he would have expected from the hostile Argentinian crowd was a laser beam directed to his face.

Unfortunately laser pointers are no longer just used by slick businessman or university professors—they’ve become the tool of choice for simpletons wanting to annoy, bug and incapacitate from afar. Alarmingly, pilots during critical stages of flight are finding themselves on the receiving end of this thoughtless crime.

Flight Safety Australia first reported on laser incidents in 2008, when the federal government moved to place restrictions on their sale and impose harsher penalties for offenders dumb enough to point them at aircraft.

Bernard Foley has a laser shown in his face whilst lining up a kick at goal. YouTube | LeFauconCrecerelle
Bernard Foley has a laser shone in his face whilst lining up a kick at goal. YouTube | LeFauconCrecerelle

Despite harsher penalties and various high profile cases—including the case of a 23-year-old man jailed for three years for pointing a laser at a police helicopter—incidents have almost doubled from 325 in 2007, to 587 in 2013.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), incidents only become reportable matters once they lead to pilot incapacitation. Out of the 587 incidents in 2013, six led to situations where the pilot’s behaviour was affected, with one incident causing such eye irritation, the pilot in command had to hand over control of the aircraft over to his co-pilot for the remainder of the flight.

Lasers emit a highly focused single-wavelength beam of light that in some cases can be brighter than any type of natural source—including the sun. Naturally, the devices represent multiple dangers to those flying an aircraft, with pilots experiencing temporary loss of vision, flash-blindness and afterimage—where the eye continues to see shadowing long after exposure to bright light.

In the United States the growing trend of laser incidents has prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to reward USD$10,000 to those who provide information directly leading to the arrest of those responsible for shining laser pointers at aircraft, urging people: ‘Don’t let a prank lead to prison.’

All those who have experienced or witnessed any type of laser device pointed at aircraft are encouraged to report the incident to the ATSB either online or via telephone.

As for Foley, he did his best to ignore the flickering green light. Unfortunately, he hit the post and Australia went on to lose the game.

Thankfully, it was just that—a game.


  1. I remember many years ago, before lasers, being on a dual night VMC flight with the glow of the lights from Griffith increasing when a spotlight was suddenly shown on us from directly below. Very distracting especially in a high wing aircraft.
    We were over grazing country, no doubt it was fox shooters.
    We were both very quite listening for the sound of bullets hitting a metal aircraft.
    Luckily no damage was found at our next landing.


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