USA TODAY - Airline pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI are launching a campaign to discourage laser strikes on planes, after the number of incidents reached a record high last year.
The FBI is offering rewards up to $10,000 for information leading to the conviction of someone who shined a laser at a plane. The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 50,000 pilots, is working with the FAA to promote the campaign of public-service announcements, billboards and press releases focused in 12 cities.
"We are calling on industry, government, and the public to take steps to help safeguard the skies against laser strikes," said Capt. Sean Cassidy, first vice president at ALPA.
The number of laser strikes has climbed sharply in the last decade, reaching 3,960 incidents last year.
The problem is that a person on the ground can aim a laser pointer, which can cost as little as $50, into the cockpit of a plane or helicopter. The cockpit glass diffuses the light, which pilots complain is like a flashbulb going off and temporarily hurting their vision at a critical time of taking or landing a plane.
"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can temporarily blind a pilot, jeopardizing the safety of everyone on board," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
Congress has boosted the maximum penalty for the federal crime to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The FAA can also impose civil fines up to $11,000 per incident.
"Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law," said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. "It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions."
The cities where the campaign is focused are: Albuquerque; Chicago; Cleveland; Houston; Los Angeles; New York; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Sacramento; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.