New Zealand may ban laser pointers as ‘laser attacks’ on aircraft increases

Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 21:44 by Aviation Correspondent

As more people point laser pointers at aircraft, more aircrafts and pilots are affected

The Government of New Zealand is thinking about banning high-powered laser pointers after there has been a big increase in the number of people targeting the devices at aircraft, seriously affecting the vision of pilots. There have been about 35 such incidents since the late 1990s, but it is happening more often lately, especially around Wellington International Airport.

The airport at the greatest risk from “laser attacks” is Wellington International Airport, located 7 kilometres south-east of central Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. Being  a major domestic hub, Wellington International Airport has links to the major cities of Australia.

According to New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority, Wellington International Airport is “the most popular” for attacks on planes thanks to flight paths and the airport’s nearness to houses.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s figures show that laser attacks on aircraft had more than trebled in the past 18 months.

The media quoted Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven as stressing that “laser attackers” should be given stronger punishment if current laws proved to be an inadequate deterrent. “Laser attacks,” he added, “seemed to be mainly the work of one or two people of low-level intelligence.”

In a rare case of prosecution of its kind, a resident of Wellington, a man aged 24, has been charged with pointing a green laser into the cockpit of a commercial jetliner with 49 passengers on March 4, 2008, as the plane coming from Christchurch was about to land at Wellington International Airport.

An official of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs was quoted as saying that the Ministry would wait for police and the Civil Aviation Authority to “take the lead in the situation, but would work toward reviewing restrictions on use of laser pointers.”

The New Zealand government had, in 1998, urged retailers and importers of powerful laser pointers to adopt a voluntary restriction on the gadgets for fear of people using them as weapons.

The restriction had limited the sale to ‘class 2’ laser pointers or less, but many of the laser pointers now available would be classified as ‘3B’ – a far too stronger laser – under New Zealand’s standard for lasers.

The so-called ‘green lasers’ – usually used by attackers – emit a beam of bright light that is nearly 35 times brighter than a standard ‘red laser pen’ and are generally strong enough to be rated above ‘class 2.’

The “attacks’’ typically involve someone pointing a high-powered green laser into cockpits, sometimes from as far away as 5 kilometres.

The laser pointers – which are a little larger than a ballpoint pen and emit a neon green beam – are usually used by tour guides and people giving presentations to point at objects from a distance.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs is of the opinion that while it considers lasers to be “legitimate,” any attacks with it would be regarded as “criminal misuse of the product.”

Authorities in the New South Wales state of Australia had banned laser pointers after several incidents took place in which aircraft pilots were temporarily blinded.

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