Increasing Laser Attacks on Aircraft
Recent information published by airline regulatory authorities in many countries shows a startling increase in the amount of incidents involving personal lasers being shone into the cockpit of aircraft on approach to land. In the United Kingdom alone there were 2000 reports of laser lights being directed at approaching aircraft last year in 2011. This is a significant increase when compare to around twenty reports in 2005. Small handheld lasers became available around the year 2000 and since then have become easier to buy at a much cheaper price. Unfortunately the minds of some are not as bright as the lasers they purchase for a few dollars on the internet, the consequences of targeting an aircraft with one could unfortunately be disastrous.
Affects On Pilots
The cockpit of an aircraft flying at night will purposely be kept in a dark or low light state. One reason for this is so that the pilots night vision is not affected. When on approach to land the pilot has to constantly transition his eye sight from his cockpit instruments to the runway outside. Even if a laser is shone into the cockpit without directly hitting the eyes of the pilot, the cockpit will be lit up and night vision will be temporarily destroyed.
Depending on the strength of the laser, a direct hit into the eyes of a pilot could produce immediate vision impairment, temporary blindness and even permanent damage. Consider the implications this could have knowing that a pilot relies almost completely on visual clues when landing an aircraft. In order to land safely a pilot needs visual reference in order to flare the aircraft at the correct height above the runway and to ensure the aircraft touches down on the runway centreline. With vison impaired from a laser it is possible the cues could be distorted or not be seen at all resulting in an unsafe landing or requiring a go around.
Why Not let the Autopilot Land the Aircraft
Most modern airliners are equipped with multiple auto pilots which have the capability to auto land the aircraft. If this is the case, why then don’t pilots let the autopilot do all the landings? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to use this functionality so we do not have to rely on the pilots vision? Unfortunately this idea as good as it sounds is not always possible and is definitely not the remedy.
Usually automatic landings are only carried out in times of low visibility at the airport, in most other cases landings are manually flown by the pilot. Some of the reasons for this include:
- Not all airports posses the required equipment for an aircraft to auto land
- Not all aircraft have the required equipment installed to be able t carry out an auto land
- Pilots need to maintain their recency requirements and must land an aircraft a minimum amount of times in a set time period.
- Auto landings must be briefed by the pilots before the approach
- Both the aircraft and it’s pilots must be set up and prepared for an auto land. Switching at the last minute is not a safe option
Okay, let’s use a little common sense here. If a pilot is landing an aircraft at night it is perfectly feasible to assume that he or she is finishing a final leg after a long day of of domestic sectors or perhaps a long international flight. The fact is the pilot flying the plane is going to be tired, he or she will be juggling a number of variables such as weather conditions, ATC and time constraints. The last thing that is needed right now is some moron with a new toy laser having fun attacking a real aircraft with people on board.
The consequences of this could potentially be fatal, and this practice needs to be stopped as soon as possible. While it is ilegal to point a laser at an aircraft in most countries (Usually a fine) I feel the penalty should be considerably increased to deter the ill informed and not so bright from doing it again.