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FBI set to make federal cases out of beaming lasers at aircraft

Ever played with a cat or dog by beaming a laser pointer light on the floor or wall? You flash it around. They chase after it like it's something they can snatch. They seem to love it.

Such devices are easy to come by. Indeed, they're so simple to get hold of that it might be tempting for folks in Ohio to presume that there can be no danger associated with them at all. But that would be a mistake. There are government agents ready to make a federal case out of it if they suspect you've been beaming a laser light at a plane or helicopter. Yes, you could wind up facing serious criminal charges.

The fact is that a federal law that took effect in 2012 makes it a felony to aim a laser light at any aircraft. The penalty for a conviction of the criminal charge could be incarceration. If the Federal Aviation Administration decides to, it could tack on an additional civil penalty of up to $11,000.

Clearly, the government sees this as a serious matter and anyone facing charges should do likewise to ensure their rights are protected. Working with experienced legal counsel is the best way to do that.

How significant a problem is this? Well, the head of the Air Line Pilots Association International says it's big. Laser lights can travel up to a mile. If one catches a pilot's eye, he or she could be blinded, become disoriented and crash. That puts anyone in the aircraft and those on the ground at risk.

The FAA says that in 2006, 384 incidents of laser beaming were reported by pilots. In 2013, the number of reports had escalated to nearly 4,000.

To counter the trend, the FBI just launched a nationwide program. For the next 90 days, the agency will be offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of a suspected laser beamer. The move follows a recent pilot of the program in 12 cities which saw laser strikes cut by 19 percent. 

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "FBI warns against pointing lasers at aircraft," Kathy Lynn Gray, June 4, 2014

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