The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating reports of lasers being pointed at 11 flights over New Jersey last night.  

Passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport Terminal B (Courtesy of Port Authority of NY and NJ)

Green lasers were pointed at 10 of the 11 flights between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday night from a number of different areas ranging from near the Outerbridge Crossing to as far away as Ocean City, New Jersey according to FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

Most of the incidents were reported to be within 7 to 20 miles of Newark according to Peters, who said one of the affected flights was headed for LaGuardia Airport and another was departing Newark.

Peters said the lasers illuminated both sides of the cockpits and other parts of the affected planes, leading air traffic controllers to change the approaches for incoming flights. ABC  News reports one of the pilots had blurred vision as a result of the laser.

This is an assault on a pilot as far as I’m concerned,” said Rich Frankel, special agent in charge of the Newark office of the FBI told ABC News.. “It is a criminal matter. You’re putting the lives of not just the pilot but everyone on the plane at risk.”

New Jersey State Police say they will be assisting with the investigation

Green lasers appear “almost like a flashbulb” in the cockpit, said Michael Canders, a retired military pilot and aviation professor at Farmingdale State College, on Long Island. “It blinds the pilot, which can obviously interfere with control of the aircraft,” he said following a May incident in which five commercial flights were hit by lasers on approach to New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports.

Captain Greg John, the owner of Infinity Flight Group, who is a long-time pilot , says when a laser is shined into a cockpit it’s usually when a plane is taking off or landing, which is the most critical phase of flight – that’s when you need to be “on you’re a game.”

“It acts as a sort of a flash, which you’d see on a camera, which can temporarily blind you, all the way up to retinal damage,” he said. “When a laser shines through the wind screen into the cockpit it sort of has a prism effect, so what comes in as a dot winds up coming out as a broader beam.”

He said people may not understand just how dangerous lasers can really be.

“When you get a pilot that’s disoriented who’s flying the airplane with his 2 hands and 2 feet, you know you’re a thousand feet over the ground, you’re really seconds from death at that point if the pilot loses control of the airplane," John said. "Disorientation at that point and blindness essentially is what this is, at 500 feet or 200 feet can be catastrophic.’

It is a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft that could result in a 5-year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine.

Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed legislation in 2013 that would have banned the sale of laser pointers with more than one milliwatt of output power. New York Senator Chuck Schumer has proposed a federal ban on high powered lasers.

FAA summary of where the laser events occurred: ‪

  • Porter 141  was at 3,000 feet 15 miles southwest of Newark Liberty International Airport
  • American Airlines 1472 was 20 miles southwest of Newark Airport
  • United Airlines 330 was at 9,000 feet seven miles northeast of Robbinsville
  • American Airlines 966 was at 3,000 feet 15 miles south of Newark Airport
  • Delta Air Lines 504, Shuttle America 3489 and JetBlue 828 were at 3,000 feet four miles south of the Outerbridge Crossing
  • JetBlue 2779 did not report its location
  • American Airlines 348 was at 9,000 feet over New Jersey heading to LaGuardia Airport
  • One aircraft reported it was illuminated when it was over Ocean City
  • A US Coast Guard aircraft was at 3,000 feet over Ocean City.
  • Republic Airlines 4632 reported it was at 9,000 feet seven miles northeast of Robbinsville. The flight was heading to Pittsburgh, PA.

In addition to the laser incidents reported in New Jersey, pilots reported 23 other laser incidents around the country last night. None of the flight crews reported injuries. Shining a laser into an aircraft cockpit is a federal crime and violators may be subject to fines and time in jail. The FAA investigates each incident and works closely with law enforcement.

The other laser events occurred in Jacksonville, FL (2); Daytona Beach, FL (2); St. Petersburg, FL (1); Pittsburgh, PA (2); Bellefontaine, OH (1); Indianapolis, IN (1); Denver, CO (2); Salt Lake City, UT (3); Albuquerque, NM (2); Phoenix, AZ (1); Houston, TX (1); Austin, TX (1); San Antonio, TX (1); Oakland, CA (1); Bakersfield, CA (1); and San Jose, CA (1).