Lasers a threat to aircraft safety: CAA

2012-08-01 14:31

Midrand - The number of incidents of laser lights being used against aircraft is increasing, and causing a threat to safety, the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said on Wednesday.

There had already been 170 incidents of a laser being pointed at an aircraft or at an air traffic control tower this year, said CAA director Zakhele Thwala at a media briefing in Midrand.

At this rate, there would be more incidents than last year when there were 175, he said.

"There's a huge concern from the airline industry... on the huge increase of their use," Thwala said.

The laser lights were a distraction to both aircraft pilots and air traffic controllers. They were usually laser pointers, easily available in electronics stores for as little as R150.

Air Line Pilots' Association SA representative Captain Margaret Viljoen said the laser light incidents were often at lower altitudes, such as take-off and landing, which were critical times for flights.

They were particularly dangerous when it was dark, because the flashing light was even more distracting then.

"Laser illuminations can interfere with pilot vision, potentially impacting the safety of a flight," Viljoen said.

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research national laser centre manager Dr Ndumiso Cingo said that while there had not been an accident on record as caused by lasers, this might change in the future.

"These lasers are becoming more powerful and readily available, the chances of the lasers causing an incident are increasing," Cingo said.

Thwala said there was also the threat that the lights could cause permanent damage to the vision of pilots, affecting their ability to earn a livelihood.


Thwala believed that the people flashing lasers at planes were not trying to cause accidents.

"It may not be malicious but it is dangerous," he said.

While the act of using a laser against aircraft might just be a prank, he said perpetrators could face serious consequences if they were caught. The penalties included a fine or up to 10 years' imprisonment.

However, few people had been caught in the act of using a laser against aircraft so far. Thwala said only three people had been caught, one each in Durban, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.

He said the person in Bloemfontein was caught because of the presence of the SA Air Force in the area. The person caught was a minor and eventually the charges were dropped.

The other cases in Durban and Johannesburg had dragged on in the courts and the CAA had lost track of them, Thwala said.

Viljoen said some people could be flashing lasers at aircraft because they had seen on television fictional scenarios where an aircraft was brought down by them. Others were just bored and entertaining themselves.

"There's my opinion that it's one individual: he's got his beer and his laser pointer and that's his evening fun," Viljoen said.

The bulk of the laser incidents had occurred at Cape Town airport, but almost all airports in the country had been affected.

Thwala warned that the lasers were not only a threat to the aircraft, but to the communities around an airport where a crash could take place.

He said the CAA would launch a public information campaign to educate the public on the hazards of flashing laser pointers at aircraft.

  • abram.spamers - 2012-08-01 14:53

    This is what happens when technology outruns social development.

      robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-08-01 16:56

      Outright banning is not an option as low intensity lasers have are used to great effectiveness in pointing out features when giving lectures. High intensity lasers used as cutting tools also cannot be banned outright. However the sale of high-intensity lasers should be controlled and limited to proper industrial uses - not flashed around as toys

  • robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-08-01 15:16

    Malicious or prank - makes no difference. These mindless idiots must be caught and smacked with the full might of the law and publicly disgraced.

      harry.dewet.5 - 2012-08-01 18:28

      The light from "high intensity" lasers used for cutting and welding are not visible to the human eye, and some of them can stop any military vehicle, plane or soldier, because of instant evaporation of the eye's retina within a split of a second - nice weapon to control people. without using a gun!

  • Gavin - 2012-08-01 15:19

    equip the planes with rocket launchers or chain guns - problem sorted. or high definition cameras to record these idiots actions then as punishment strap them to the wing of a plane as it flies over the DRC.

  • klippies.coke.7 - 2012-08-01 15:23

    I'm not saying that this is no longer a problem, but it looks like the same article from a couple of months ago.

      bibi.vanzyl - 2012-08-01 17:38

      Clearly still very/more relevant.

  • francois.faber - 2012-08-01 15:32

    lol, Terrorist should sell their RPGs and buy laser lights ? :p

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