Frame grab from a video produced by the U.S. Air...

Frame grab from a video produced by the U.S. Air Force and the FAA about the dangers of "laser strikes" where laser pointers are directed at aircraft cockpits. (August 22, 2012) Credit: U.S. Air Force, FAA Handout

A laser beam pointed at an aircraft in the sky is a tragedy waiting to happen. It's a serious offense that should be firmly punished.

In some cases it seems to have been a mindless teen prank, but the consequences of a crash caused by pilot blindness outweighs the motivation. Heavy fines, and in some cases, jail time, would send a powerful message that it's a life-threatening crime.

The latest incident occurred Tuesday night when laser beams were pointed at a passenger jet and a police helicopter. On July 24 a 14-year-old boy aimed one at another police helicopter. A few days before that a JetBlue pilot reported an eye injury from a laser beamed into his cockpit.

A St. James man has been charged with obstruction of governmental administration for allegedly beaming a laser at a plane and helicopter in December, and faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine under state law. It's also a federal offense carrying up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The FAA can impose a civil penalty up to $11,000.

It's not just a problem on Long Island. There were 3,592 incidents nationally last year, up from 283 in 2005, says the FAA. This year there have been 2,040 incidents.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants most pointers to be at a lower strength and to include a warning that shining them at aircraft is illegal. While tech-savvy users could find a way to boost the lasers' strength, warnings could be effective. But the best message is from prosecutors: Target an aircraft and law enforcement will target you.


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