Lasers a 'serious matter' for planes and helicopters

Plane flying near Heathrow Airport
An increase in reports of laser pen attacks on aircraft led to a change in the law

There's been a big rise in the number of laser pen attacks on aircraft which police have described as a serious problem.

In the last three years there have been more than 4,500 reports of pilots being targeted by lasers.

That's up from fewer than 1,000 cases between 2007 and 2009.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says the high intensity light can dazzle pilots during take-off and landing.

DCI Mark Eley is in charge of the police unit dealing with the problem.

He said: "There's been a growing trend over the last few years and we are working hard to overcome it.

"We think it's down to the reduction in cost of laser pens and we now have a much better reporting ethos so we know when these strikes are occurring."

'Piercing light'

Over the past year Glasgow and Manchester airports have been among the areas seen as high risk.

Josh Morgan, 16, is training to become a pilot in Bournemouth and said: "There's a lot of things to do on the approach to landing and if one little glimpse of light got in your eye it would have a lot of consequences.

Josh Morgan, 16, and his Cessna C150
Josh Morgan, 16, is training to fly a Cessna C150

"I would be nervous to fly again and I would always be scared of someone else doing it to me."

Earlier this year, the CAA released an eye test to help pilots decide whether they needed to visit a specialist after such attacks.

Green lasers pose the most serious risk because the human eye is so much more sensitive to green light.

29-year-old Matt says it happened to him.

"We noticed a sharp piercing green light coming into the cockpit," he said.

"I was shocked, it was like looking at a camera flash because all I could see when I blinked was a white dot.

"It distracted me and if I had been about to land it could have been catastrophic."

'A prank'

In 2010, a new law was brought in to specifically deal with the problem.

PC Scott Gibbons
PC Scott Gibbons deals with laser attacks at London City Airport

It allows offenders to be charged with "shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot".

The new law, which carries a fine of up to £2,000, saw 23 people charged with the offence in its first year, 2010, and another 60 in 2011.

PC Scott Gibbons deals with laser attacks at London City Airport and said: "It's often youths mainly doing it as a prank not realising just how dangerous it is to shine these lights at an aircraft.

"While it may seem like a bit of a joke at the time, people are being convicted of this offence and the bottom line is this is very dangerous."