Though they are not yet capable of blowing up a plane like those shown in science fiction movies, but can high-powered laser pointers pose a danger to airline flights?
By: Ringo Bones
A “laser incident” forced a pilot to turn around a flight from London to New York, Virgin Airlines said. Virgin Atlantic Flight 025 was en route from Heathrow Airport on Sunday – February 14, 2016 – when a laser was pointed at the plane, spokeswoman Jamie Fraiser said. “Following this incident, the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing,” the airline said on its website. The aircraft landed safely at Heathrow with 252 passengers and 15 crew Fraiser said. Virgin Atlantic said its offering the affected passengers overnight accommodation and the flight is scheduled to depart London on Monday.
The airline is working with authorities to confirm the source of the laser, it said. London’s Metropolitan Police Service said it is investigating, but there have been no arrests. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority recorded 48 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in the first half of 2015. Such incidents are on the rise – especially in the United States – as handheld lasers that are several times more powerful than the ones used in a boardroom presentation become more common and affordable. A laser beam has the potential to burn a pilot’s cornea and cause serious injury. Direct hits have put pilots in the hospital. The beams can also temporarily disorient and blind pilots.
The laser used to “dazzle” pilots and cause near-crashes during “laser incidents” are a more compact version of those bulky helium-neon lasers used in planetarium laser shows during the 1970s. They range in size from those as big as torch-lights to those as big as a mid-sized pair of binoculars. These lasers are legitimately used in stage lighting effects during concerts and other special occasions but due to their relatively affordable cost – they range in price from 10 to 40 US dollars and are widely available on online shops like e-Bay – pranksters have used them to point at planes especially at the cockpit window part of the plane. The green ones pose the most danger because the human eye is most sensitive in this part of the visible light spectrum and they are the most likely to disorient the pilot and the co-pilot and could trigger a tragic crash because “laser pranksters” often point lasers at planes during takeoff. These lasers are so bright that during tests by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, these lasers are capable of disorienting pilots even if the pointed lasers are located 3,000 feet away from the plane’s cockpit windows.