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Aircraft laser strike reports soar to record high in 2023, FAA says

Aircraft laser strike reports soared to a record high in 2023, jumping 40% from the previous year, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday. 

"The FAA takes this threat very seriously," said FAA Administrator Michael G. Whitaker in a videotaped statement. 

Laser incidents have soared since 2020 – more than doubling in three years. Pilots reported more than 13,000 laser strikes in 2023, the highest number ever reported, Whitaker said. 

A light beam from a laser can travel more than a mile, penetrate a cockpit and can temporarily blind a pilot or cause severe injury while they are flying planes carrying hundreds of passengers. Forty-seven pilots reported injuries from strikes in 2022.

California, Texas, and Florida led the nation in reported strikes in 2022, averaging about one per hour. The FAA said part of the reason strikes might be rising is due to the low cost and high quality of laser pointers. 

Designated a federal crime by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 offenders could be sentenced up to five years in prison, or a fine of up to $250,000. Civil penalties can fine offenders up to $25,000, according to a report submitted to Congress by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. States also can arrest local offenders, the report said. 

The FAA works closely with federal law enforcement agencies and will pursue civil and criminal remedies against people who aim lasers at aircraft, Whitaker said. 

Prosecution in recent years has remained low as the FAA has not coordinated fully with local or federal law enforcement investigating these incidents, the report said. Between July 2016 through September 2020, the FAA pursued actions for 99 of 232 laser incident offenders the agency identified primarily through civil penalties. 

During the same period, the FBI reported they referred 86 cases for prosecution and received 40 convictions, but 23 of those offenders did not serve time. The FBI in Seattle offered a 10K reward after an increase in laser incidents there.

Kathryn Krupnik contributed to this report.

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