I-TEAM: Dangerous laser strikes reach highest numbers in 2021

FAA has received 9,723 laser strike reports for 2021

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Despite warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration about high-powered lasers being shined from the ground at aircraft above, new reports reveal that dangerous laser strikes topped all previous records in 2021.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received 9,723 reports from pilots last year, a 41% increase over 2020.

Michael O’Harra, who’s the administrator for the FAA’s southern region, says federal officials don’t know what’s behind the increase.

“But we all know that lasers are very readily available to the public,” O’Harra said.

Shining a laser at an aircraft is a serious safety threat. Many types of high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots, many of whom are flying airplanes with hundreds of passengers. Pilots have reported 244 injuries since the FAA began recording data on laser strikes in 2010.

Related: FAA continues to see rise in laser strikes on aircraft

In 2021 there were 630 incidents reported in Florida. Here are the numbers for some of the key airports:

At the Jacksonville International Airport, pilots reported 37 incidents in 2021.

“The FAA has described the effect as comparable to having a camera’s strobe fired directly in your face,” explained aviation analyst Ed Booth. “It’s going to temporarily blind you.”

People who shine lasers at aircraft face FAA fines of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple laser incidents. The FAA issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021. Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

“The FAA continues to educate the public about the hazards of laser strikes because they pose such a serious threat to the safety of the pilot, the passengers, and everyone in the vicinity of the aircraft,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

O’Harra says the FAA is trying to educate the public about why laser strikes are so dangerous.

“We were doing everything we can to get the word out on these dangers, so that people are aware that it’s not a good idea, and that others can help us with reporting,” he said.

The FAA encourages the public to report laser strikes to the FAA and local law enforcement agencies.

About the Authors:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter