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Americans are pointing lasers at planes more than ever before

The US Federal Aviation Administration said the latest figure of 13,304 laser strikes is a 41 percent increase over the year before -- by far the highest number since data collection began in 2016 (JOE RAEDLE)
The US Federal Aviation Administration said the latest figure of 13,304 laser strikes is a 41 percent increase over the year before -- by far the highest number since data collection began in 2016 (JOE RAEDLE)

US authorities on Wednesday warned Americans to stop pointing lasers at planes after pilots reported a record number of incidents in 2023.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the latest figure of 13,304 laser strikes is a 41 percent increase over the year before and by far the highest number since data collection began -- posing a major safety threat to pilots, passengers and those on the ground.

"A laser strike can temporarily blind a pilot or cause severe eye injury, and the FAA takes this threat very seriously," Administrator Michael Whitaker said in a video.

"Bottom line: lasers and aircraft don't mix. If you have a laser please use it responsibly and never point it at an aircraft," he added, encouraging citizens to report laser strikes to authorities.

Offenders can face FAA fines up to $11,000 per violation, or $30,800 for multiple infractions -- in addition to criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement.

Most laser strikes aimed at cockpits happen at night during takeoffs and landings.

Authorities attribute the sharp increase to a greater abundance of devices available online at lower price points and higher power capacities, as well as the advent of green lasers, which are more easily visible.

Extensive outreach to pilots to encourage reporting incidents likely played a role in the increase, too.

Lasers can cause severe damage to the retina. The higher the power, the more dangerous, though labeling is often unclear or intentionally misleading.

In all, pilots have reported 313 eye injuries since the FAA began recording data on laser strikes in 2010.

ia/nro