Could your Christmas lights display be harming pilots?

One topic that isn't debatable is that some of those ostentatious Christmas displays are a big concern to pilots.

KUSA - It's the time of year when the ‘TV news’ debates whether it's too soon for Christmas displays.

One topic that isn't debatable is that some of those displays are a big concern to pilots.

Instead of traditional strings of lights, people are turning to devices that refract a laser light, splashing buildings with an array of festiveness. 

At least...that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Some people may unintentionally, or on occasion, intentionally, angle the holiday laser displays too high so they point into the sky, creating an issue for pilots according to the FAA.

“You [see spots],” said Centennial pilot and flight instructor Nate Duehr. “Spots in the eyes and a little bit of vision loss for a few minutes.”

In 2014, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for pointing a laser at a police helicopter, and only a year later the Coast Guard launched an emergency response in Sacramento after mistaking a holiday lights display for a credible threat.

Duehr says aside from weather elements, lasers can be one of the more dangerous hazards pilots face.

“You may or may not be able to completely see what you're doing after that hits you in the eyes,” he said.

The FBI, which investigates these incidents, couldn't say how many laser light incidents they've had in Colorado, including ones with a light display, and neither could the FAA but they both said it's a federal crime if they can prove malicious intent.

A conviction carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.

In 2014, the FBI rolled out a program to deter incidents saying they'd give up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest in a case. That includes holiday displays if an owner doesn't take them down after being asked by detectives.

“Just be safe out there with the Christmas lights,” Duehr said.

The sheriff’s department says they refer calls about laser pointers, and Christmas light displays to the FBI, who will typically ask a light display owner to remove or adjust their laser. If they don’t comply that’s when they said they consider enforcement.

Calls to several manufacturers of holiday laser light displays went unanswered, but several we looked at online don't have warnings on them when it comes to distracting pilots.

For information visit the FAA's website.

 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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