Technology

Pope's plane reports laser flash during Mexico landing

The Alitalia flight landed in Mexico City after the incident Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Alitalia flight landed in Mexico City after the incident

Crew on Pope Francis's flight from Cuba to Mexico last Friday reported a laser beam incident, the airline has said in a statement.

The captain, Massimiliano Marselli, reported the laser sighting to the control tower at Mexico City.

Alitalia flight AZ4000 was travelling from Havana with the Pope on board, and was preparing to land when the laser was spotted.

No crew or passengers were injured by the beam, the airline added.

"It is usual practice for the control tower to alert the competent, local authorities," Alitalia said.

On Sunday, a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York from London Heathrow Airport turned back following take-off after a laser was shone into the cockpit.

Virgin Atlantic said that the co-pilot reported feeling unwell and the return to London was a "precautionary measure".

Nearly 9,000 incidents involving lasers and aircraft in the UK were reported to the country's Civil Aviation Authority between January 2009 and June 2015.

'Widespread' problem

"This is yet another incident that shows how serious and widespread the issue of laser attacks on aircraft is," said Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), in response to the case involving the Pope's plane.

"Modern lasers have the power to blind and the potential to dazzle and distract pilots during critical phases of flight," he told the BBC.

"Shining a laser at an aircraft is illegal and dangerous and puts all those on board and on the ground nearby at completely unnecessary risk."

Mr McAuslan added that Balpa would like to see greater restrictions on the sale of all but the least powerful lasers.

The Pope has now completed his five-day tour of Mexico.


What types of laser are pointed at planes?

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Media captionJim McAuslan, British Airline Pilots Association: "Make lasers an offensive weapon"

According to the UK government, laser pointers - also known as laser pens - are those most commonly used against planes. They are usually portable, low-powered battery-operated devices.

Laser products are categorised by strength, ranging from Class 1 - including CD players - to Class 4 devices - which can be strong enough to cut metal and to medically treat eyes.

The strength of laser pens can vary widely.

Public Health England says it has found laser pointers available to buy with many found to be Class 3 or higher.

Read more: How dangerous are lasers to planes?

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