Sen. Chuck Schumer has secured a promise from the commissioner nominee of the Food and Drug Administration to consider banning the sale of high-powered, long-range, green laser pointers to the public because of the risk they pose to airline pilots and passengers, a spokesman for the lawmaker confirmed Thursday.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with Dr. Robert Califf — whose nomination by President Barack Obama to be FDA commissioner was approved last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and awaits action of the full Senate — on Wednesday, and Califf promised to look into Schumer’s request, according to Schumer’s office. The senior senator discussed with Califf the growing number of laser pointer incidents — especially in the metropolitan area — that have affected commercial airplanes, including Monday night’s incident over Mattituck in which a United Airlines flight was targeted by a laser while flying at 11,000 feet.
“We’re only one month into 2016 and already there has been a green laser strike targeting aircrafts in the New York metropolitan area,” Schumer said in a statement. “We need to do something, and that is why I am pushing the FDA Commissioner nominee to act ahead of his confirmation. Green laser pointers have been a repeated danger to pilots across the country and I will continue to urge the FDA to use its authority and finally ban green, long-range, high-powered laser pointers once and for all,” for nonprofessional uses.
The FDA has published warnings about the potential dangers of laser pointers in the past, noting on its website that high-powered green laser pointers “have the agency particularly concerned. While there are legitimate uses for these green pointers, they may be altered to become more powerful and unsafe if not used responsibly.”
According to a 2013 study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both red and green laser pointers “often emitted more visible power than allowed under the Code of Federal Regulations, and green pointers often emitted unacceptable levels of infrared light as well.”
Reports of airplanes being targeted by laser pointers have catapulted from 384 incidents in the United States in 2006 to 7,152 by mid-December of 2015, including 76 near LaGuardia Airport, 24 at Kennedy Airport, 60 at Newark Liberty International Airport, two at Long Island MacArthur Airport, and six at Republic Airport.
Lasers can distract pilots and lead to temporary blindness, the Federal Aviation Administration has said, and in some cases, pilots have reported eye injuries that required medical treatment. Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.