PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It's the hot decorating item for this holiday season, spraying green and red laser beams on the front of homes all over the Pittsburgh area.
But an inadvertent problem has surfaced in the use of the "Star Shower" lighting display, and it's prompting a warning from the FAA.
The issue of lasers and aircrafts is growing with reported cases more than doubling over the last year, but the "Star Shower" decorating laser has taken the issue to a new level.
If "Star Shower" sounds familiar, it should. KDKA-TV's Jennifer Antkowiak recently put it to the test on a local home, got the thumbs up from the home owner and the laser display has sold out all over the country.
But as Jen pointed out, "the safety warnings on the product and in the directions tell you not to point the light directly into the sky, not in the flight path of any aircraft."
But apparently, inadvertently, that's what happened to a flight crew near Dallas that was hit by the light 22 miles away, and there was also a reported incident in Michigan.
"The light rays stay parallel over long distances, so that same amount of light you see hitting the wall can hit that pilot even though the pilot is thousands of feet in the air," said ophthalmology surgeon Dr. Kevin Clark.
Clark says the power of the laser isn't strong enough to hurt the pilots as they fly briefly through its beam.
"But we're worried about the distraction factor," he said. "If a pilot sees a light like that, he might become disoriented."
And there's a lingering impact.
"If they look at a red beam, for example, they are going to see a green after-image for up to 30 seconds or a minute," Clark said. "So they may see lights that aren't there."
The FAA says the issue is how people are aiming the "Star Showers" box of light.
"If the box is aimed a little high, some of the laser light will not hit the roof of the house, for example," said Lynn Lunsford with the FAA. "It'll just keep going off into space."
And into airplane cockpits.
The FAA said in a statement Thursday: "The FAA is not aware of any incident in which a laser holiday light machine illuminated an aircraft in the Pittsburgh area."
The FAA and Dr. Clark say the solution is simple: "Make sure it's aimed at your house, make sure it's not going to bounce off a reflective surface like your car, where it could bounce up into the air," Clark said.
Or turn it off altogether.
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