Legality of Pointing Lasers at Aircraft in the United States

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Legality of Pointing Lasers at Aircraft in the United States

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense in the United States. This article provides an overview of the legal framework which prohibits this action, along with the reasoning behind the law.

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In the United States, pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal under federal law. Title 18, Section 39A of the U.S. Code, enacted by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, states:

“Whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”

This law applies to all laser pointers, regardless of the strength or potential danger posed by the specific device.

The primary reason for the illegality of pointing a laser at an aircraft is safety. A laser beam can travel over a mile and when it hits an aircraft’s cockpit, it can create a bright glare that temporarily blinds the pilot. This glare can distract or disorient pilots during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff or landing, and can lead to accidents.

Moreover, the unexpected flash of a laser can cause persistent visual disturbances or even temporary blindness. Given that pilots need to rely on a clear line of sight and quick reaction times, especially when close to the ground, such interference poses a significant threat to the safety of the flight, its passengers, and individuals on the ground.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports thousands of laser incidents each year. Law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), take these incidents seriously and actively pursue those who point lasers at aircraft. Offenders have been prosecuted and have received various penalties, including fines, community service, and imprisonment.

Individuals convicted under this law can face fines and up to five years in prison. The FAA can also impose civil penalties up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple laser incidents.

In summary, pointing a laser at an aircraft is considered illegal due to the significant safety risks it poses. Federal law prohibits such actions, and those found guilty can face severe criminal and civil penalties.


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