WASHINGTON -- People who point powerful lasers at planes and helicopters -- which can temporarily blind pilots -- could face fines as high as $11,000 per violation, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.

The FAA is using a new legal interpretation of existing regulations that prohibit interference with the operation of an aircraft to levy the fines, FAA administrator Randy Babbitt said. "It's simple: Point the laser, pay the price," he said.

Pilots have reported more than 1,100 such incidents in the United States so far this year, and officials are concerned that eventually there will be an air crash. The incidents have increased rapidly as online sales of new, powerful handheld lasers have soared. In some cases pilots have had to relinquish control of an aircraft to a co-pilot because of vision loss.

The lasers are marketed as tools to point out stars at night. They are many times more powerful than the laser pointers used by lecturers. -- AP

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