In an attempt to thwart a growing trend, the FBI Monday announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of anyone who has pointed a laser at an airplane.
Reports of these incidents, which have been called dangerous by the FBI and the aviation industry, have risen 1,100 percent since 2005, the FBI said in a news release. In 2013 there were 3,960 reported laser strikes on aircraft, or about 11 per day, according to statistics tracked by the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration.
In the metropolitan area, the number of reported laser attacks on aircraft increased 39 percent in 2013, up to 99 from 71 in 2012. There were 97 reported incidents in 2011 and 52 in 2010, according to the FBI.
"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot, jeopardizing the safety of everyone on board," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a news release. That happened in New York as recently as Dec. 26, when a JetBlue pilot on approach to Kennedy Airport was temporarily blinded by a laser, resulting in blurry vision for about a week.
In January 2013, a Shirley man became the first person in the region charged with what was at the time a new federal law to criminalize aiming lasers at airplanes. Prosecutors said Angel Rivas used a laser light on cockpits of two aircraft flying near his house on Aug. 21, 2012 -- first, a Sun Country Airlines chartered Boeing 737 heading from Iceland to Kennedy Airport, and then a Suffolk County police helicopter responding to a complaint from the Sun Country pilot.
"The risk associated with illegal and inappropriate laser illuminations is unacceptable. Pointing lasers at aircraft in flight poses a serious safety risk to the traveling public," Air Line Pilots Association International president Captain Lee Moak said in a statement.
The FBI's targeted regional reward program, which will include educating teens about the dangers of pointing lasers at airplanes, will run for 60 days in 12 FBI field offices, the release said. The offices participating in the program are Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Juan and the Washington field office.