Interfering with the operation of an aircraft is a crime punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and laser incidents are on the rise. Since the FBI and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began keeping records of laser events in 2004, “there has been an exponential increase every year,” said Tim Childs from the Federal Air Marshal Service, who serves as a liaison officer with the Bureau on laser issues.
Justin Stouder was aiming a laser pointer at a distant tower from his suburban St. Louis yard one April evening in 2010 when a police helicopter appeared in his line of sight more than a mile away.
At the time, the 24-year-old had no idea that his decision to point the laser at the helicopter was a federal felony—or that the beam of light might have serious consequences for the pilot and his crew.
“It’s equivalent to a flash of a camera if you were in a pitch black car at night,” said St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Doug Reinholz, the pilot on patrol that night when Stouder’s green hand-held laser “painted” his cockpit. “It’s a temporary blinding to the pilot,” he said during a recent news conference highlighting the danger of lasers directed at airplanes and helicopters.
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