Pilots victims of laser rage near British airports

September 28th, 2008 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 28 (IANS) The plane is coming down to land. The pilot is busy with the final manoeuvres. Suddenly, a sharp beam of light from somewhere near the runway focuses on the cockpit and the pilot is momentarily blinded.
Frantic, the pilot tries to clear the vision, but in vain.

And time is ticking away. Barely a few minutes are left for touchdown. What does the pilot do? Abandon landing or hand over the controls to the co-pilot?

This is not a scene from the latest aviation thriller, but a dangerous reality stalking pilots near major airports in Britain. Laser rage.

Pilots coming in to land at British airports have been forced to hand over the controls to colleagues after being temporarily blinded by laser beams deliberately shone into the cockpit from the ground.

The perpetrators are thought to be using high-intensity laser guns imported from China and Russia which can be bought over the internet for as little as 10 pounds.

The police are hunting for the attackers after a number of incidents in the past few months.

The latest was in August when the pilot of a Boeing 737-300 passenger airliner approaching Cardiff Airport at 4,000 feet late at night was dazzled by a powerful green light aimed at the aircraft by someone positioned near the runway.

An airport source told Mail on Sunday that a gang of teenagers on a hill about a mile away were believed to be responsible for the deadly prank.

In Suffolk, a man is due to be sentenced next month after he shone a laser light into the cockpit of an RAF Sea King helicopter.

Flight Lieutenant Bob Dewes, who was on a routine training flight, was forced to cover his eyes and return to base after the incident, which police said could have proved fatal.

Glen Porter, 20, of Ipswich, admitted endangering the helicopter last April and is due to be sentenced Oct 27.

Dave Reynolds, flight safety officer of the British Air Line Pilots Association, said: “There have been dozens of incidents over the past year or so.”

“The first sign that the aircraft has been targeted is when a light-spot starts dotting around the flight deck. It is a serious distraction at a critical phase of the flight and it is something the authorities need to take very seriously indeed,” said Reynolds.

Aviation safety experts said that the pilot’s ability to see can be impaired by flash blindness and they suggest they go to hospital for a check-up to make sure they have suffered no lasting eye damage.

Powerful laser devices without safety warnings can easily be bought from internet sites.

Some websites offer a high-intensity 200 milliwatt laser - 200 times above Britain’s safety limit - for just 60 pounds.

Importing such devices has been banned in Australia after a number of similar incidents there.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has issued a stern warning: “Any member of the public shining a light at an aircraft or a helicopter could endanger the safety of the flight, and any person found guilty of such an offence could face a custodial sentence.”

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