FAA Reports Increase In Laser Strike Incidents

Credit: FAA

Laser strike incidents against pilots increased in 2020 despite an overall decrease in air traffic operations, the FAA said March 8.

Pilots reported 6,852 laser strikes to the FAA last year, 716 more than in 2019 and the highest number reported to the agency since 2016. 

The FAA takes enforcement action against people found to be in violation of federal aviation regulations by shining lasers at aircraft, and can impose penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. It has levied penalties of up to $30,800 for multiple laser incidents.

After declining from 7,398 reported laser strikes in 2016, the number of incidents increased last year despite air traffic being suppressed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Air traffic activity for both commercial airlines and business aviation plummeted in April 2020, but airline traffic has been much slower in recovering.

U.S. commercial airline traffic in late December 2020 was 39% lower year-over-year from 2019 as measured by weekly average flights per day, according to tracking firm FlightAware. Business aviation traffic by the end of 2020 had increased 8.6% year over year. FlightAware defines business aviation traffic as turbine general aviation flights.

FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 70-2A provides guidance to aircrews on the formal reporting of laser illumination incidents. ACs can be searched at https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars/

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.