Laser Beams and Aircraft Incidents

2010 - 2014 Interactive Database

Laser beams pointed at the skies are an increasing risk for pilots. Few know that the light, which looks like a small dot from down below, is actually a wide spectrum that can fill up a significant portion of an airplane's wide screen. Other than the potentially distractive effects, the intense light can temporarily blind pilots and even cause eye damage.

Despite the hazard, The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has reported an increasing number of reports of laser pointer sightings by pilots.  In 2014, there have been 3,894 cases, more than double the tally from 5 years earlier.

Number of Aircrafts Reporting a Laser Pointer

Phoenix is the city with most reported events: 577 in the 2010-2014 period. That's almost one every 3 days, on average. Houston, Chicago and LA are the other cities with the highest numbers.

Top 20 Locations for Number of Events (2010 - 2014)

Number of Events per State (2010 - 2014)

Almost half of the 17,688 events reported by the FAA happened in 5 States: California, Texas, Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Of course, this might just be related to the population and size of these states. 

If we normalize the numbers by population, we get a different rank.

For example, D.C. and Hawaii actually have the highest number of reported events per population: 256 every 1 million inhabitants. Nevada, Arizona, Oregon are the bigger states next up in the list with 158 - 129 events per million inhabitants.

Even when normalized for its population, however, California is still quite up the rank, with 86 lasers beams reported every 1 million people.

Number of Events per 1 M inhabitants (2010 - 2014)

Almost all of the 17K events reported between 2010 and 2014 were about a green laser. 

The color of lasers beams depends on their wavelength. 

Green lasers are among the brightest laser around, and are usually used by amateur astronomers and can be visible for thousands of feet. They can pop balloons and light matches

Pointing them at an aircraft, though, could get you in trouble. From 2012, it is now a federal crime to point lasers at an aircraft. Even a single hit with a cheap 99 cent green laser could get you with an imprisonment sentence up to 5 years.

According to the FAA, you could be fined up to $11,000 per violation.

Number of Events per Color of Laser Beam (2010 - 2014)

Last year, Houston and LA were the cities where most events were reported. A few incidents reported a white laser light. Something quite interesting, given that the first white lasers have been announced only in July 2015!

2014 Events Interactive table of number of events per location

Brows all the 2014 laser vs. aircraft events in the following table: How many in your city?

Interactive table of 2014 Events

Table shows latest 10 events. Click Explore to change the threshold and see them all. Source: Federal Aviation Agency

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