A growing threat to pilots nationwide is causing a huge danger to passengers, and even people on the ground, in Connecticut.
Laser strikes are essentially taking a small laser and pointing it at a plane, and last year they were reported nearly 3,900 times nationally.
So far this year it has happened 5,300 times across the country, and while it has become so common for pilots to be struck by lasers, it is now part of the curriculum for students to learn about at the Connecticut Flight Academy.
“There is no warning,” said Kevin Ross, of the Connecticut Flight Academy. “It actually fills out the whole window.”
The laser strikes often happen at times when pilots and their passengers are most vulnerable, during take-off and landing.
“Having it be a neon colored light, it now comes in the cockpit, it reflects off all the windows and glass and instruments and everything becomes bright,” Ross said.
The temporary blindness that most pilots said they can experience is similar to what happens when the flash goes off after taking a picture with a smartphone.
Instead of only being blinded for about 30 seconds, pilots says they can be blinded for almost 30 minutes.
“What people don’t realize is it’s a little laser when it’s on the ground, but when it goes up 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 feet, it gets bigger and bigger,” Ross said.
Last year, the FAA said there were 15 laser strikes in Connecticut, and more than half of them were at Bradley International Airport.
This year, the federal government said the number of laser strikes has doubled to 30, which is more than one third of the targeted flights at Bradley.
“The one most familiar around here is down by Chester. Anytime you get a briefing for a night flight, they will say that’s a hot spot down there,” Ross said. “It almost makes you think people are doing it intentionally or they just don’t know.”
Shining a laser at a pilot is a federal crime. The FBI and FAA have stepped up their enforcement with PSA videos, but tracking the culprits can be tough.
“You don’t hear about a lot of people getting caught because it takes 2 seconds to shine it. It’s not like they’re lighting fire works for three hours,” Ross said.
Dr. Nicholas Perricone, founder of Perriquest Defense Research in Meriden, said the glasses his company designed are the answer.
“We can put these glasses on. We can read the instruments inside of an airplane. We can see the runway lights. We can see navigation lights,” Perricone said.
The glass blocks the light from a laser that can harm the eyes of the pilots, however they cost about $400 per pair.
Perricone said it is a small price to guarantee that each plane can take off and land safely.
“The idea here is prevention. Why do we have to wait for an accident for this to be implemented,” he said.
Even though the number of laser strikes have doubled, there haven’t been any accidents caused by lasers in Connecticut.
The FBI said they will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who intentionally points a laser at an airplane.
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