Authorities are asking for the public's help in cracking down on people who shine lasers at planes and helicopters.

Captain Robert Hamilton of the Airline Pilots Association
Captain Robert Hamilton of the Airline Pilots Association (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

During a news conference at State Police Headquarters in West Trenton, Lut. Col. Matt Wilson, New Jersey State Police Deputy Superintendent of Investigations said, "Hitting an aircraft with a laser- it's not a game, it's not a video.  Shining a light in the eyes of anyone operating machinery is not funny, it's a federal crime - there's severe punishments."

Captain Robert Hamilton, Pilot and Security Council Chair, for the Airline Pilots Association, said, "I know from experience that shining a laser at an aircraft is no joking matter and it has serious consequences.  I've been the victim of this crime…Laser strikes frequently occur when it is closest to the ground during takeoff and landing….These are times when pilots must focus intently on operating safely in congested airports and when distractions can be most dangerous."

He pointed out, "Laser illumination can cause temporary blindness and even permanently damage a pilots eyes, potentially leading to an aircraft accident…Individuals must understand the danger and their responsibility to report anyone who misuses lasers."

FBI Special Agent Mike Ward
FBI Special Agent Mike Ward (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

Special Agent Mike Ward of the FBI in Jersey said, "The aiming of lasers at an aircraft is a rapidly increasing threat and let me be clear - it is a very serious threat.  It is not a minor issue, it is not a nuisance, it is not a harmless prank, it is a direct threat to aviation and to the general public."

Ward said the region is very crowded with aircraft, so it's a bigger problem here than in other parts of the country.  In 2011, there were 269 laser incidents reported in New Jersey.

"So, the idea is to increase public awareness about the situation - to ask for cooperation in the reporting of incidents, and to highlight law enforcement's resolve in addressing the issue."

He pointed out there has only been one person prosecuted for pointing a laser at an aircraft in Jersey over the past 8 years because when planes are approaching the airport, often times they're landing in New York or Philadelphia.

Poster warning about pointing a laser at a place (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

"By the time the reporting is made and then it goes through the system and we're made aware, often-times we're responding to the scene after the fact...If you have information, if you know something, call 911, call the local police, notify authorities."

Special Agent Carlos Garcia of the FAA said nationwide, there's been a dramatic spike in laser reports, with more than 35 hundred last year.  A system has been developed to immediately inform local law enforcement in the area, so they can search for the responsible party and arrest them.

He also said the FAA is now working on a laser education project with schools, because kids are involved in about 50 percent of all laser incidents.  But fines for anyone caught shining a laser at a plane can be as high as 11 thousand dollars.

"We want to send the message that it's dangerous to shine a laser at an airplane or a helicopter, and if you're caught doing it, it's going to cost you a lot of money."

A public service announcement, produced by NJ 101.5, is now playing, warning of the dangers of pointing a laser at an aircraft.


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