Congress makes pointing lasers at aircraft a federal crimeCongress makes pointing lasers at aircraft a federal crime: Civilian aircraft defense measure enacted

Published 10 December 2005

We have reported on the growing attention being paid to protecting civilian aircraft from shoulder-mounted missiles. It is a big problem because the more than 11,000 passenger planes operated by airlines around the world are easy prey to the simple, cheap, and easy to operate missiles. Moreover, there are 800,000 shoulder-mounted missiles in existence, many of them in the hands of the twenty-seven known terrorist organizations. There are two competing approaches to protecting civilian aircraft — place the defensive systems on the aircraft, or place it around airports. Northrop Grumman, BAE, and Israel Aircraft Industries promote the first approach, while Raytheon advocates the second. The competition between these two approaches is intense because there are billions of dollars at stake in building the systems and maintaining them over time.

While Congress and security experts mull the merits of this approach, the House yesterday passed a bill which would make aircraft just a little bit safer by making it a federal crime to aim a laser beam at the cockpit of an airplane in flight. HR 1400, passed by voice vote, would make the crime punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and a five-year prison term. The bill’s author is Representative Ric Keller (R-Florida).

There is a legal case now working its way through the courts in which a New Jersey man is accused of shining a laser pointer at a charter aircraft approaching New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, temporarily blinding the two pilots. The man is being prosecuted under the Patriot Act. If convicted, the man could face thirty years in prison. Simple laser pointers may be purchased at any office supply store. Even a pen-size laser has sufficient power to cause vision problems in pilots from a distance of up to two miles.

-read more in this CQ report (sub. req.)