Sen. Charles Schumer Sunday called on federal regulators to establish tougher rules governing the strength and sale of laser devices after two recent incidents where lasers were pointed at pilots in planes over Long Island.
Schumer asked the Food and Drug Administration to limit the strength of the widely available laser pointers, used primarily for office presentations and classroom lectures, and to restrict the sale in stores and online of other high-powered lasers used for scientific research and commercial laser shows. Schumer also wants the FDA to require warning labels on all lasers sold in the United States, making clear that pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense.
"We want to show people it's dangerous. This is not just a funny prank," said Schumer, a New York Democrat, who Sunday wrote to the FDA commissioner requesting tougher regulations. "It can be totally disorienting to a pilot. It can be deadly."
Instances of lasers being pointed at cockpits have increased substantially in the past six years, according to Federal Aviation Administration statistics. In 2011, there were 3,591 cases, up from 283 in 2005.
On July 23, a boy, 14, pointed a laser at the cockpit of a Suffolk County police helicopter. Police took away the boy's laser but did not arrest him. On July 15, someone pointed a laser at a JetBlue Airways plane flying over Islip en route to Kennedy Airport. A co-pilot on that flight reported vision problems and was treated at a hospital.
No restrictions currently exist on the sale of small laser pointers, which are commonly used for office presentations and are available at many retailers. They can be seen up to 2.2 miles away. The more high-powered, brighter, battery-powered lasers are used for light shows.
"It could be a kid joking around, but people with far more evil purposes could use these as well," Schumer said. "It will cost no money, but increase safety."