Laser pointers a growing problem for pilots everywhere - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Laser pointers a growing problem for pilots everywhere

Suspects are lighting up airplanes with potentially blinding laser pointers. (Source: WAFF) Suspects are lighting up airplanes with potentially blinding laser pointers. (Source: WAFF)

There's a growing danger in the sky threatening flights. Suspects lighting up airplanes full of passengers with potentially blinding laser pointers.

The Federal Aviation Administration has seen a record 50 percent increase in just the last year alone.

For the first time, official have confirmation that planes landing at Huntsville International Airport have already been targeted dozens of times over the past six years.

In 2016 alone, it's happened not once but five times and it's only May.

Commercial planes, military aircraft, even medical helicopters, are all targets for a laser strike.

Huntsville pilot, Mark Spencer, has been a target of laser strikes.

"All of a sudden you see this bright light in the cockpit that is very distracting," said Spencer.

The first time he was high above Huntsville getting footage of fireworks for the Fourth of July. However, an unexpected light show hit his plane from the ground.

That's when he realized someone targeted him from the ground with a laser.

"It's unusual to deal with people intentionally trying to cause you harm," added Spencer.

Police Pilot Adam Culbertson was lit up four times in one night.

"It could've been deadly. The closest thing I can compare it to, is looking into the sun," said Culbertson.

The FAA confirms more than 2,196 strikes have happened across the country so far, already on par to surpass the year before. The number of these strikes is escalating.

Over the last 8 years, there's been a steady increase in reports from pilots, averaging around 3,700 incidents a year. However, last year, laser attacks nearly doubled to a record 7,703 strikes.

When pushed for more details, the FAA released dozens of documents detailing the incidents. Some contain actual descriptions from the pilots
taking off and landing at major airports around the country.

Over a four-year period, planes coming and going from Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport reported 131 documented laser attacks on planes.

There have also been 116 reports from Nashville International Airport, 41 at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and 48 at Huntsville International, including one on a military helicopter.

Every major airline has reported being hit by these laser pointers, including American Airlines, United, Delta.

When you break it down to the number of daily strikes across the U.S., it's staggering.

"The stats I've got right now say 16 instances every day," FedEx Pilot and Chairman of the Airline Pilots Association, Chuck Dyer, who has been a commercial pilot for 32 years. "We're seeing more recognition of the problem, but we're a long way from getting our arms around the problem."

The frustration for pilots, the FAA and the FBI is that powerful lasers are cheap and easy to buy. You can find them on Ebay for $9 or $10. The most powerful ones for just $40 or $50.

Dyer and the FBI said, people just don't realize how dangerous lasers can be.

"A lot of times it's young people who want to pull a prank and be funny but the message we are trying to send is that it's not funny, it's a felony," said FBI spokesperson Paul Daymond.

Suspects can face thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time.

Just this March, a California man received 14 years in prison for shining a laser pointer at a police helicopter, the strongest sentence given in the U.S.

If you are aware of someone who is doing this, report them immediately.

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