Laser pointers an increasing aircraft danger

February 11, 2014 (CHICAGO)

It is called "lasing," shining a laser at a jetliner or actually any aircraft. The problem isn't new but it is getting worse. It happened about 40 times a year a decade ago. Now there are 4,000 incidents a year.

So Tuesday night, the FBI is floating a reward for information leading to the prosecution of anyone caught lasing.

Shining a laser beam at an airplane is potentially deadly and it is a felony. A conviction could result in a five year prison sentence.

In Chicago the past few years federal agents have been vexed by a series of laser-pointing incidents as planes took off or landed at both O'Hare and Midway International Airports.

So Tuesday night, Chicago is one of a dozen cities where the FBI is offering up to $10,000 to tipsters with solid information about people who are lasing.

"It's not just a danger to the pilots, as well as to the passengers, but to the people on the ground," said FBI agent John Kitzinger.

The new program is aimed at cutting back on about 100 laser incidents a year at O'Hare alone. It is an alarming trend that has pilots concerned and puts passengers in jeopardy.

"It's a very serious concern," said Dennis Tajer, Allied Pilots Association. "The debilitating effects of a pilot using his vision. Our passengers can surely understand how important it is for a pilot to be able to see clearly in landing and takeoffs."

Pilots who become disoriented from lasers do have ways to keep at the controls, but it can be difficult and compromise safety.

Most of the incidents happen during overnight hours, especially 3-4 a.m. Dozens of people have been sentenced, some sent to prison. The FBI reward program is established in cities where there have been serious lasing incidents. Besides Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Juan Puerto Rico are among the cities where reward money is being offered.

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