Pilots seek to curb threat of lasers being used against civilian planes

The Czech Airline Pilots Association has revealed a worrying development in the Czech Republic: the escalation of laser device attacks from the ground on civilian planes. In 2009, unknown perpetrators aimed Level 3 lasers at airplane windscreens, temporarily blinding pilots for at least for a couple of seconds. Devices capable of such mischief, which can cause permanent eye damage, are apparently readily available without restrictions, one reason the pilots are seeking tougher legislation.

A little earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Captain Karel Mündel of the Czech Airline Pilots Association:

“We consider let’s say these ‘attacks’ to be a very significant issue, because some years ago we had only information from foreign countries that they were experiencing problems. 2009 was the first year that we experienced something like this in Prague. Basically we had seven cases, which is not too much, but three years ago the number was the same for instance in the UK and last year they had 800 such incidents against civilian aircraft.”

Karel Mündel, photo: Alžběta Švarcová
What exactly is taking place when someone points a device like this against a plane?

“The problem is that when a laser hits the windscreen at the front of the airplane the cockpit is immediately filled with a high-intensity white light and you lose orientation and can’t see your instruments. So basically you are lost. It depends on how long the beam hits the window; according to witnesses, it wasn’t longer than one or two seconds.”

Did any of the pilots in the cases that you mention have to get medical attention afterwards?

“Well, in at least two cases pilots were treated but suffered no significant damage to their eyes and were able to return to duty within a few days.”

How were the pilots in the cases able to assess what kind of laser – such as Level 3 - was being used?

“Basically, we used reference tables from a study conducted a few years ago by the FAA and – comparing data and images from that – we were able to gauge the intensity of the light that pilots experienced here.”

It seems from what you’re saying that others are further along regarding the danger represented by lasers. Does the Czech Republic still have a way to go?

“Well, we know at least that the US, Great Britain and Germany have accepted new laws, defining lasers as dangerous devices and leading to regulation. We would keep the Czech Republic in line with these countries and like to protect our people as well as fellow pilots from other countries when they fly to Prague.”