Airplane laser strikes: FAA needs to do more, watchdog says

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A government watchdog said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to strengthen efforts in combating incidents of people intentionally pointing lasers at aircraft, which can disorient pilots. 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s August report came after the FAA reported a record number of incidents last year. In 2021, there were 9,723 reported incidents, a 41% increase from 2020 when about 6,852 incidents were reported, according to FAA data. 

As of July 31, 2022, the agency has already received reports of 5,061 laser strikes intentionally aimed at aircraft, which not only poses serious safety risks but is also a federal crime. 

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"Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law," the FAA said on its website. "Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers."

A general view of lightened buildings and decorations, also laser shows during new year celebrations in Brussels, Belgium on January 01, 2020.  (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Getty Images)

According to the GAO, the FAA asks pilots to complete a voluntary questionnaire to support incident investigations, "but it only received responses for 12% of incidents one recent year." 

The group also noted that the FAA and law enforcement had disbanded an interagency working group to address this issue in 2015. 

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The GAO recognizes that it's difficult to identify those who are involved in these incidents but says the FAA needs to determine how to better collect and share information with law enforcement. The watchdog also said the FAA should re-establish the interagency working group to collaborate on laser safety. 

The FAA told FOX Business that it is "committed to maintaining the safest air transportation system in the world" and that it works to educate the public about the hazards of lasers aimed at aircraft.

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The FAA also said it works with other federal agencies and local governments to report and investigate incidents as well as help apprehend suspects and advocate for the prosecution of offenders.

Currently, the agency can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. However, the FAA has imposed civil penalties up to $30,800 against people for multiple violations. 

The agency also said it plans to directly respond to the GAO on the recommendations in its report. 

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