From the office of Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Days before the busiest travel day of the year, a bipartisan pair of Maryland lawmakers unveiled a measure aimed at curbing a dangerous trend that some worry is making flying more dangerous. The proposal announced today would take aim at a growing threat to aircraft—laser pointers being used by individuals on the ground to temporary blind pilots in flight.
In a bill that is pre-filed for the 2013 legislative session, Delegate Sam Arora (D-Montgomery) and Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Harford & Baltimore Cos.) seek stiffer penalties for people who shine laser pointers into aircraft cockpits, often resulting in flash blindness that renders a pilot temporarily unable to control the aircraft.
“Today’s run of the mill laser pointers are widely available and dangerously powerful,” Del. Arora said. “They are blinding pilots and creating life-threatening situations. We have an opportunity here to make flying Maryland’s skies safer for everyone.”
In addition to flash blindness, a laser strike in an aircraft cockpit can cause disorientation and eye injuries for the flight crew. In February 2011, pilots flying a 50-ton Southwest Airlines jet with more than 130 people on board were blinded during landing at BWI by a green laser. They managed to safely land the jet before being rushed to the hospital with eye injuries.
In recent years, first-responder pilots throughout Maryland have been temporarily blinded while conducting searches or conducting medevac flights, including high-profile incidents in Montgomery County, Mt. Airy, Baltimore County (multiple incidents: 1, 2, 3), Carroll County, and Wicomico County.
“I have been flying planes for 19 years, and there is no time more critical for a pilot than takeoff and landing,” Sen. Jennings said. “Blinded pilots create a danger for everyone onboard and on the ground.”
The proposed legislation would carry a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Current law only permits for a $500 fine for “misuse of a laser pointer”.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that laser-related incidents affecting aircrafts are on the rise and increased nearly 300% between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, 63 laser-related incidents in Maryland were reported to the FAA, including eight strikes against Maryland State Police helicopters.
The proposal is identical to one previously introduced by Del. Arora that passed the House of Delegates in March but ultimately failed to reach a vote in the state Senate during the final hours of the regular legislative session, when a budget showdown between the two chambers effectively killed scores of bills that were scheduled for votes.
The Arora-Jennings bill is modeled after legislation recently passed in other jurisdictions in response to the laser pointer phenomenon. At least a dozen states and many more local jurisdictions have enacted laws against offensive use of laser pointers. In 2010, Ocean City passed an emergency law banning laser pointer sales to and possession by minors and barred most outdoor use of laser pointers.