Ministers mull laser pen license to protect pilots, planes and the public

Jordan Bhatt
Virgin Atlantic

The purchase of laser pens in the UK may soon require a license following a rise in pens being used to attack aircraft.

Ministers have said that new measures are needed to help protect pilots and cut down the risk to planes and the public.

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In 2016 there were 1,258 incidents of lasers being shone at aircraft recorded by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.

Business Minister, Margot James, said: "Public safety is of the utmost importance and we must look carefully to make sure regulations are keeping up with the increased use of these devices.

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"Whilst we know most users don't intend any harm, many are not aware of the safety risks and serious health implications of shining laser pointers directly into people's eyes.

"Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences."

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The call for evidence will be open for responses for eight weeks, closing on Friday 6 October.

Earlier in the week, a British father and his 15-year-old son were faced with heavy fines after allegedly shining laser pens at pilots as they tried to land in Malaga, Spain.

Air traffic controllers say the dangerous stunt could have led to disrupted flights or even an air accident.

Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said: "When a laser is shone into a pilot's eye, they experience a bright flash and a dazzling effect.

"This can distract them and leads to temporary loss of vision in the affected eye. Startling, dazzling and distracting a pilot at a critical stage of flight has the potential to cause a crash and loss of life.

"This is especially a problem for helicopters, which operate close to the ground and are sometimes single pilot operations."

Laser beam attacks against the rail network are also an increasing concern. Records from British Transport Police show that between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2016, a total of 466 laser incidents were recorded. This equates to approximately 85 incidents per year.

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