There’s something about red and green laser pointers that just make them feel right for exploration. After you’ve tried to project these small bright lights across a few blocks, you may start to wonder how far you can push things. If your hand-held lasers can reach that far, it’s vital to know what happens if you point a laser at a plane.
Understanding the effects of laser lights on a plane is crucial because it can help guide your outdoor laser operations properly. With that information, you’ll be able to use your laser pens more safely and legally.
Let’s go into detail on that now.
Can Green Laser Beams Reach an Aircraft?
Yes, green laser beams can reach an aircraft from the ground. If the green laser has enough power output, the visible light can easily reach the flight path of the aircraft and, by extension, any object in that vicinity. As such, that air space should always be a laser-free zone.
While red or blue lasers can also do this, green laser light can travel farthest as it’s one of the colors more readily visible.
It bears mentioning that many bright lasers commercially available in the country aren’t capable of this feat. This is because the U.S. government has placed a legal limit on milliwatt laser pointer sales that exceed 5 mW in the country.
Even with this, it’s still relatively easy to get more powerful laser pointers shipped in from international sellers. Also, while the risk is minimal, there’s still the possibility that your label pointer is mislabeled and has a higher power output than stated.
We’ll go into how to check if the U.S. FAA ban on laser pointers applies to the gadget you’re using right now shortly.
What Happens if You Point a Laser at a Plane?
If you point a laser at a plane, you could cause light aviation issues in airplane cockpits such as glare and disruption, disorientation, and eye hazards to the pilot. Although the plane itself isn’t affected, because the periphery vision of the pilot is compromised, damage can occur.
At the moment, there are no known laser incident reports of a casualty resulting from such exercises in commercial and private aviation. Despite this, pointing a laser at planes landing or in other phases of flight is considered a potential hazard and a threat to aviation safety.
This is because deliberate laser illumination of an airplane or helicopter with laser beams can trigger:
Visual Distraction Risk
Lasers with high power levels easily flood airplane cockpits with light at night, startling the pilot and constituting a distraction hazard in the process. Pilots using a busy flight path might misinterpret the bright light as any number of threats.
The result of this is that the pilot is more prone to making a mistake. The same thing applies to pointing a laser at planes landing, taking off, or around airport proximity.
When pointing lasers at planes, it’s important to remember that the way the light appears to you isn’t how it looks to the pilot. The light exposure level is usually higher.
In addition to high power levels, the distance from which the beam is shot matters as well. The result is that the pilot sees light several times brighter. Because of this, even a safe-but-too-bright visible laser light exposure can throw a pilot off.
Pointing laser beams at an airplane pilot at night can also cause an intense glare and disrupt the normal flying operation. Some laser beams are strong enough to blot the field of vision of these individuals completely.
The resulting light interference from outdoor laser displays compels most pilots to look away from the cockpit windscreen to better adjust their vision.
Also referred to as temporary loss of vision, flash blindness occurs when the eyes are exposed to retina-sensitive pigments. It’s the same reaction observed when you observe a bright camera flash.
When a laser is used in a sensitive flight zone, it exposes the pilot to this eye hazard, temporarily disrupting their central vision in the process.
In some cases, the exposure to these bright light levels may be even more severe as the pilot may experience temporary spots in their vision. Many pilots often need medical attention to manage the laser injuries afterwards.
This situation isn’t ideal. Loss of sight poses a safety risk during the operation of aircraft, especially during night time landings and flights.
Shining a laser beam at an airplane also puts the aircraft pilot within the ocular hazard distance of the laser beam. The worst laser attacks can blind pilots and cause various eye injuries.
Although it isn’t a very common occurrence, high-power laser lights have been known to cause potential eye damage to pilots. According to laser beams – BBC News, a pilot sustained permanent eye damage from one such occurrence. Luckily he was able to retain his sight.
However, in extreme cases, it can leave airplane pilots blind completely.
Is it Legal to Point a Laser Beam at an Airplane?
No, it’s not legal to point a laser beam at an airplane. Control measures like the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Reform Act (U.S. FAA) of 2012 were passed due to the increasing accounts of laser pointer accidents.
Laser laws serve as a safety measure for pilots and made it a federal offense to point lasers at airplanes, even if the gadget had low power levels.
Even though the laser effects don’t put the plane at risk, laser activity can destabilize a pilot to varying degrees constituting a danger to this personnel. Also, it poses a great hazard for hundreds of passengers aboard the aircraft and around the flight zone.
As such, depending on several variables like how powerful the laser pointer was, the effect it had on the pilot, and the situation in which it was used, a person in the U.S. could face civil penalties like:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the right to impose a financial penalty of up to $11,000 every time a person is implicated in laser strike incidents. In addition to federal fines, many states also have unique regulations that reflect their stance on the abuse of this device.
There’s also the risk of having to serve prison time for people who are caught pointing laser beams at airplanes. The jail term for this can range from a few months to several years.
Additionally, some laser pointer incidents may be deemed severe enough that the person would be required to both pay a fine and serve a prison sentence.
Getting Shot At
By law, pointing a laser beam at an airplane or helicopter constitutes an attack on an aircraft. Depending on the situation, there’s a risk that the authorities might misconstrue a laser strike as an attempt to shoot down the plane and fire back in response.
Over the years, aviation authorities have seriously taken to enforcing these rules even with seemingly light aviation incidents. The aim of this is to encourage laser safety concepts.
While it’s difficult for the authorities to find people who use these gadgets on a private or commercial plane, they have a system they use to bait individuals who launch laser attacks on their aircraft.
They also offer a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of people who use lasers like this.
Using Laser Pointers Safely
Reports suggest that overpowered lasers are still easy to come by in the U.S. Without using several tools, there’s no way to know for certain if your laser pointer is overpowered. If you got your laser from Amazon, there’s a high chance that its power is within the legal limit.
This is because the platform has implemented many policies that make it more difficult for sellers to offload banned lasers to consumers through it.
Although not 100% efficient, our laser safety experts recommend you determine your laser power through the following measures:
- Confirm it comes with a statement that highlights the product’s compliance with Chapter 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
- A detailed warning on the best safety practices to follow when handling the product.
- Look for reviews on the Internet to see what previous users of the gadget have to say about its power offering.
- Look for information on the class designation that the product falls into. To further promote laser safety concepts, lasers were divided into different categories based on their properties and effects. The product you use should ideally fall between Class I to Class IIIa.
- Examine the batteries. If the laser pointer uses button batteries, then it’s very likely within the acceptable power output range. But if it’s powered by AA or AAA batteries, the chances are higher that it puts out more than the 5 mW legal limit.
Checking off this common protection measure list, coupled with following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations when using this electromagnetic device will ensure you stay out of trouble.
What happens if you point a laser at a plane? You may be recklessly endangering the health and safety of not just the pilot but of everyone aboard the aircraft. There’s never a good reason for a handheld laser operator to use it this way.
See how to use lasers for fun astronomy activities here.