Pilots already reported more incidents this year than all of 2020.
The Federal Aviation Administration launched a data visualization tool to gain new insights into a years-long problem: increasing incidents of people shining handheld lasers at planes.
“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot and, not only affects the crew, but also endangers passengers,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in the press release.
So far in 2021, the FAA has received 7,186 reports of these laser events, surpassing 2020’s total of 6,852 and approaching the 2016 recorded high of 7,398.
To better monitor these events, FAA officials have rolled out a new platform using Tableau software that reveals laser incident data dating back to 2010 and includes the geographic area, per capita data, time of the day and year when a given laser event occurred.
The dashboard indicates that states including California and Texas endure the most laser events by state, while Hawaii and the District of Columbia see more laser incidents per capita. Friday and Saturday see the most laser incident reports on average.
“The FAA developed this data visualization tool to capture laser strike trends and draw attention to the dangerously high rate of laser strikes on airplanes," Dickson said in a statement to Nextgov. "We encourage the public to report laser strikes either to the FAA via our website or to your local law enforcement.”
Perpetrators operating the lasers are a broadly diverse group, with many being juvenile and not realizing how strong the laser pointers are when aiming them at or near an aircraft, an FAA official told Nextgov. Officials also report incidents to local law enforcement within the area the laser event occurred.
Violators are subject to $11,000 per laser violation and up to $30,800 for more than one incident. Criminal penalties are also possible on federal, state, and local levels.
In 2021 alone, the FAA issued about $120,000 in fines for laser incidents.
The FAA's announcement coincides with an upcoming holiday season and the agency pins part of the increase in incidents to the abundance of inexpensive but high-powered lasers available to consumers.Agency officials are currently working to increase awareness and outreach of the dangers laser pointers pose to pilots and passengers aboard aircrafts, with its Lose the Laser safety campaign.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include a comment from FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.