ALPA Shines Spotlight on Laser Illuminations of Aircraft

More than 120 people—ALPA safety and security representatives, line pilots, law enforcement officers, military officers, and representatives of several U.S., Canadian, and European government agencies and airline managements—gathered today in Washington, D.C., to share information about the growing problem of laser illumination of aircraft cockpits. ALPA and the Air Transport Association cosponsored the conference, titled, “Laser Illumination of Aircraft: A Growing Threat.”

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) discussed his bill (H.R. 386), passed earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives, that would make aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft a federal crime. Asked about other aspects of U.S. aviation security, Lungren declared, “We are safer now than before 9/11, but we need to do a better job of telling the public that.”

ALPA’s president, Capt. Lee Moak, praised Lungren’s efforts on behalf of aviation safety and security and reiterated ALPA’s vigorous support for the Lungren bill. Moak noted, “One of my earliest initiatives as ALPA’s president was to develop an action plan in January to deal with [laser illuminations].”

In addition to supporting H.R. 368, Moak recalled, “On Feb. 4, 2011, the Senate passed an amendment to the FAA reauthorization with similar language, and we commended Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for championing this amendment.” ALPA has urged Congress to include this language in the FAA reauthorization bill.

Conference attendees were treated to a series of presentations that covered the science of lasers, government and industry perspectives, the dangers of laser illuminations, accounts by airline and helicopter pilots who have been lased, federal prosecution of laser offenders, and international activities to thwart this increasingly global threat.

Key messages echoed by all of the presenters included: (1) much more powerful lasers are now being aimed at cockpits than in the distant past, and (2) a major solution to the problem is better education of pilots and the public—especially in reporting laser incidents. Capt. Sean Cassidy, ALPA first vice president and the Association’s national safety coordinator, concluded, “To echo our Department of Homeland Security, our bottom line is, ‘If you see something, say something.’”