Striking planes with laser pointers temporarily blinding pilots is nothing new, but News4's I-Team uncovered the crime has been rampant during the past few years, especially at a D.C. metro area airport.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) records, 2,292 laser strikes have been reported in 2013 nationwide through Aug. 1. Officials said that number is on pace to surpass last year's 3,482 reported incidents by 10 percent.
On a local scale, more than 90 strikes have been reported at Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport since 2011.
Ronald Reagan National Airport is on pace for a 33 percent jump since last year with 16 incidents already reported in 2013. None of the reports spell out exactly where the laser beams came from. However, a Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority spokesman said the agency is "unaware of any such laser incidents on Reagan Airport property itself."
U.S. Park Police told News4 they patrol a large parkland close to Reagan National's runway. According to the F.B.I., lasers costing as little as $1 can reach distances of up to two miles.
In 2011, the F.B.I announced a task force to crack down on the crime, and federal fovernment stiffened prison sentences -- those convicted face 5 years behind bars and a $11,000 fine.
F.A.A. Administrator Michael Huerta released the following statement to News4:
The safety of the public is the FAA's number one priority and we will do everything we can to get the word out about how dangerous it is to point a laser at an aircraft. Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke. Lasers can distract or temporarily blind pilots and could jeopardize the safety of the passengers and people on the ground. We do not hesitate to take tough action against people who shine lasers at airplanes, including a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 per violation. I encourage the public to report laser events at http://www.faa.gov/go/laserinfo. The FAA has received more than 15,000 reports of laser events since 2005. Reports of laser events increased from about 300 in 2005 to nearly 3,500 in 2012. We've received 2,292 reports through August 1 of this year.
Total number of laser strike incidents in the U.S.:
- 2011: 3,592
- 2012: 3,482
- 2013 as of July 5: 1,940
- 2011: 16
- 2012: 7
- 2013 as of July 5: 3
Reagan National Airport
- 2011: 27
- 2012: 23
- 2013 as of July 4: 16
- 2011: 32
- 2012: 27
- 2013 as of July 5: 7