FAA to fine people who point lasers at planes

WASHINGTON - Federal aviation officials say they will start imposing fines against people who point powerful lasers at planes and helicopters, which can temporarily blind pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that pilots have reported over 1,100 such incidents in the U.S. so far this year.

Agency officials released a new legal interpretation they said will allow them to fine people who point the lasers as much as $11,000 per incident.

The incidents have increased rapidly around the world over the past six years as online sales of new, powerful handheld lasers have soared. The lasers are marketed as a tool to point out stars at night.

Video: Lasers Pointers A Big Threat to Planes

CBS News transportation safety analyst Mark Rosenker, a former chair of the NTSB, said lasers pointed into cockpits is a serious problem. "You can immediately distract the pilot," Rosenker said. "You can scare the pilot. And in worst cases you can temporarily blind the pilot as he's taking off or approaching landing." Rosenker said the problem goes beyond aircraft. "People are pointing these at truck drivers. They're pointing them at bus drivers. They're pointing them at automobile drivers," he said. "This is a ridiculous kind of behavior and it needs to be stopped and stopped quickly."

According to an FAA press release:

This year, pilots have reported more than 1,100 incidents nationwide of lasers being pointed at aircraft. Laser event reports have steadily increased since the FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots. Reports rose from nearly 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.

In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of laser events in the country for an individual airport with 102 reports, and the greater Los Angeles area tallied nearly twice that number, with 201 reports. Chicago O'Hare International Airport was a close second, with 98 reports, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for the third highest number of laser events for the year with 80 each.

So far this year, the Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth areas each have recorded more than 45 laser events. The Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston areas each have recorded more than 30 laser events.