(WASHINGTON) -- Airlines pilots and the government have sounded the alarm over a growing and dangerous problem: hand-held lasers aimed from the ground right at the cockpits of airplanes.
The numbers are staggering. Through Oct. 20, there have been 2,795 reports of lasers pointed at helicopters, small planes and commercial jets this year. That pace means 2011 could break last year’s record of 2,836 laser strikes.
“Over the last few years, the reported incidents of lazing have doubled and doubled and doubled again,” said Sean Cassidy, vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association. “They’re not toys when they’re getting shined against an airplane; they’re very, very dangerous.”
At the very least, a bright laser suddenly lighting up a cockpit can distract a pilot.
At the worst, it can damage their eyes, temporarily blinding them. This can be especially hazardous during takeoffs and landings. There have been cases where pilots have had to go around for another landing attempt or hand off the controls to their co-pilots.
Luckily, no accidents have been blamed on laser incidents, but pilots worry that could happen.
Officials believe the increasing number of incidents can be traced to the easy accessibility of high-powered lasers, which have come down substantially in price and can be purchased online.
The cities with the most reported incidents this year are Phoenix, followed by Philadelphia and Chicago.
This summer the Federal Aviation Administration enacted fines of $11,000 for laser incidents, and there’s a move in Congress to make it a federal crime. Some states already can prosecute those who shine lasers at aircraft.
Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it is starting a new website to make it easier for pilots to report laser incidents. Those who’ve studied the problem say some of the laser incidents are intentional, while others are not.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio