In light of what happened the other day with Virgin Atlantic flight VS25, I’d like to talk about lasers and the special relationship they seem to have with aviation. On February the 14th 2016, Virgin Atlantic flight VS25, an A340-600 carrying 267 from London to New York, was forced to declare a pan-pan and return to LHR as the co-pilot felt sick after being hit by a laser during take-off. Now if you’ve been following aviation news it would appear as though incidents involving pilots and lasers are curiously commonplace. Often times pilots are hit by lasers shone through the cockpit window from a source on the ground. This seriously endangers the safety of the aircraft as studies done by the FAA have shown pilots can be temporarily blinded or distracted by such lasers. Permanent damage to the eye is also possible. Most incidents involving pilots and lasers take place during the crucial takeoff and landing phases of the flight, where smaller mistakes have larger consequences and aircraft are at their most vulnerable stage. It begs the question, of all things that can distract pilots or hinder the safety of a flight, why do laser strikes seem to be the most common? Most of the time, laser strikes such as the one that was likely experienced by the crew of Vs25 are the result of people on the ground with little concern for aviation safety or a crude and irresponsible sense of entertainment pointing basic non-military-grade lasers at departing or arriving aircraft. It seems as though there are quite a handful of such people around the world, as lasers have become a serious danger to aviation safety. Of course other sources of lasers such as weather observatories, buildings, and temporary shows/concerts pose an equal threat, however these sources are usually marked in aeronautical charts or posted in NOTAMS so that pilots are aware of their presence. Most of the issue still lies in irresponsible people on the ground shining lasers on aircraft. Aerial police units are sometimes used to locate the source of these lasers, however until serious action is taken against offenders, it is unlikely that police will be able to deter future incidents. Although it may sound cliché, the only way to do so is to educate people on the effects that lasers can have on aviation safety.
For further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lasers_and_aviation_safety