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Los Angeles airport recorded the most laser-beam events in the country last year

102 incidents in which lasers were pointed at aircraft were reported at Los Angeles International Airport. The beams can temporarily blind or distract pilots.

January 20, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • A jet lands at Los Angeles International Airport. The airport recorded more instances of laser beams being pointed at aircraft than anywhere in the country.
A jet lands at Los Angeles International Airport. The airport recorded… (David McNew / Getty Images )

Los Angeles International Airport last year recorded the highest number of incidents in the country involving laser beams that were pointed at aircraft, a potentially dangerous act that can distract or temporarily blind pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday that the nation's third-busiest airport had 102 reported events; elsewhere in the greater Los Angeles area the tally was 201, including 32 at Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport, 31 at John Wayne Airport in Orange County and 31 at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

Long Beach Airport, the military reserve airfield at Los Alamitos and general aviation airports, such as Van Nuys and Santa Monica, accounted for the rest in the region.

"This is a serious safety issue," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

"Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations."

Nationally, the number of reported laser events almost doubled in 2010 from the previous year to more than 2,800 — the highest since the federal government began tracking them in 2005. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport came in second behind LAX with 98 incidents. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for third place with 80 laser incidents each.

FAA officials say the incidents have steadily increased since the agency created a formal reporting system to collect information from pilots. Reports rose from almost 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010. The incidents have involved commercial airliners, private planes, law enforcement helicopters and military aircraft.

According to the FAA, the increase probably results from a number of factors, such as the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet, high-powered lasers able to hit aircraft at higher altitudes, increased pilot reporting of such incidents and the introduction of green lasers, which are more easily seen than red ones.

"The FAA is actively warning people not to point high-powered lasers at aircraft because they can damage a pilot's eyes or cause temporary blindness," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. "We continue to ask pilots to immediately report laser events to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement officials."

Federal, state and local governments have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft. Violators can face prison time and thousands of dollars in fines per charge.

In a recent local incident, two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters were forced to make precautionary landings at LAX in August after being flashed with laser beams. One chopper was flying above San Pedro's Cabrillo Beach at night. The other was flashed two days earlier over Torrance. Coast Guard officials said both crews were grounded until doctors cleared them to fly again.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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