Shooting at an aircraft with a laser is a dangerous pastime but that didn’t stop more than 6800 Americans targeting flights in 2020.
The 6,852 reported laser strikes reported across the US last year produced the highest annual total since 2016 and came as the number of flights was reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The increase has the US Federal Aviation Administration worried and it’s working to find out why reports of the perilous practice have more than quadrupled since 2009.
Laser strikes are dangerous because they can blind a crew and potentially lead to a crash.
Those who shine lasers at a plane in the US face fines of up to $US11,000 per violation and up to $US30,800 for multiple incidents. There can also be criminal penalties imposed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Authorities follow up reports and the FAA issued $US600,00 in fines since 2016.
As FAA administrator Steve Dickson put it: “Pointing a laser at an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot and not only affects the crew but endangers passengers and the communities they fly over every night.”
In an effort to understand the growth in incidents, the FAA has built a visualization tool identifying trends between 2010 and 2020.
This includes geographic and per capita data as well as the time of day and the year.
Not surprisingly, the most populous state, California, has the biggest number of laser events — 11,198 between 2010 and 2020 — followed by Texas, Florida and Arizona.
On a per-capita basis, however, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are the biggest miscreants, followed by Nevada, Puerto Rico and Arizona.
The states least likely to shoot a laser at a plane are Wisconsin, Vermont and Massachusetts.
The likelihood of a plane being struck also builds during the week, with Saturday the busiest day, and is elevated in the autumn and winter months.