Fresh calls have been made to improve aviation safety by restricting the sale of all but the lowest-powered handheld lasers.
The call from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) follows the publication of a new report by leading eye specialists.
Their editorial in the British Journal of Ophthalmology highlights the “devastating” consequences that shining lasers into the cockpits of planes could have for pilots, passengers and people on the ground.
Hundreds of cases in last year
The experts, who include Professor John Marshall of the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, say lasers pointed at aircraft can “dazzle” pilots.
That will “almost certainly” distract the pilot and if it happens during landing or at another critical time it could result in an aeroplane accident, they add.
Over the last 12 months, there have been over 1,500 cases of lasers being directed at planes or helicopters. Earlier this year, one incident resulted in a New York-bound Virgin Atlantic plane having to return to Heathrow as a precaution.
The editorial says there is no evidence indicating that laser beams can permanently damage pilots’ eyesight although it points out there has been one alleged case of retinal damage being sustained as a result.
The specialists add, though, that about 150 UK children are thought to have suffered eyesight damage – the loss of their central field of vision – as a result of having a laser shone at them.
‘Class lasers as potential weapons’
It is thought that as many as a million laser pointers, key rings and pens have been bought over the last 10 years.
Many, the experts say, are powerful lasers that aren’t suitable for sale to the public and are capable of causing permanent retinal damage if they are shone directly into someone’s eyes from close range.
BALPA’s flight safety specialist, Stephen Landells, says the sale of higher-powered lasers should be restricted and recognised in law as potential weapons.
That would enable the police to search people suspected of carrying a laser, and for it to be confiscated and the offender arrested unless they had a valid reason for possessing it.
Source: Evening Standard
Date Published: May 4, 2016
Author: Jonathan Brown