The FBI announced a new program on Tuesday designed to "deter people from pointing lasers at aircraft," which is apparently a bigger problem than you probably realize. According to the FBI, there are an average of 11 recorded "laser strikes" on planes for each day of 2013, a 1,000 percent jump from 2005, when the FAA began recording laser incidents. Because every trend needs a catchy name and a "kids these days" angle, the FBI referred to the practice as "lasing," and will "be working with state and local law enforcement to educate teens about [its] dangers."
The best part is, you can even make money off this. Here's how the program works: the FBI will reward individuals with up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of someone who points a laser at an aircraft. Pointing a laser, even a handheld one, at an aircraft is a criminal offense. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in the release that laser beams pointed at aircrafts can temporarily blind a pilot, "jeopardizing the safety of everyone on board."
The danger includes beams from certain types of inexpensive handheld lasers, mainly those designed for use by astronomers to point out objects in the night sky. Office laser pointers are not as powerful. Last October, the FBI's terrorism unit launched an investigation into two such alleged attacks against planes approaching New York's LaGuardia Airport. As the AP noted at the time, those who have faced charges for laser incidents involving aircraft include what appear to be both deliberate and inadvertent interferences with aircraft in the sky. For instance, a New Jersey man was arrested on Patriot Act charges after apparently using a laser to point at stars at night.
Of course, there are bigger, laser-based concerns for aircraft these days:
That's right, the U.S. Navy has developed a "laser cannon" capable of downing a drone. It's called the Laser Weapon System, and Wired reported last year that the Navy hopes it'll become the hot new feature every sea-going military vessel will need to have. So remember: Giant military grade lasers, good; Cheap commerical pilot blinding lasers, bad.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.