Police are looking for the person or persons who aimed green laser pointers at six aircraft that were on final approach to land at LaGuardia Airport on Nov. 4 and 5.
The laser pointers, which can appear harmless, can cause temporary blindness in pilots and the flight crew should the beam penetrate into a plane’s cockpit.
All the planes’ crews reported that the lights came from areas south or southwest of the airport. There have been 2,795 reported laser strikes in the U.S. through October this year, as opposed to 2,836 all of last year, and 1,527 in all of 2009.
According to information released by the Federal Aviation Administration, four of the planes were struck by lasers on Friday, Nov. 4.
They included a Continental Express flight which was at 2,500 feet when pilots saw a laser five miles from the airport; a Trans States flight that reported a sighting three miles south of LaGuardia at 1,600 feet; plus a USAirways plane and an American Eagle flight that both reported seeing lasers five miles southwest of the airport while at 2,500 feet.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, the crews of a Continental Express flight and a United Airlines crew on a Boeing 757 both reported seeing lasers while approaching Runway 4, which the FAA said would place them southwest of LaGuardia.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense, and the FAA said it carries a maximum fine of $11,000 per incident.
In a statement issued last month, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said aiming a laser at an aircraft is not a joke, and will not be taken as one.
“As a former commercial airline pilot, I can tell you that the shining of a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is a serious safety risk,” Babbitt said. “Lasers can distract or temporarily blind pilots ... and could compromise the safety of hundreds of passengers.”
James Ray, a spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association, said laser strikes are a growing concern.
“They’re a danger for pilots, and once you realize what’s happening it’s generally too late,” Ray said. “We tell our members that if you’re lucky enough to see the light ahead of time to put your head down if you can. And you hope if it gets into the cockpit it only gets on one side.”