Ever-cheaper and more powerful laser pens available online are proving to be disruptive to flights in Scottish airspace.
Last month a Virgin Atlantic flight VS025 to New York had to turn back to London Heathrow Airport after a laser beam was aimed into the cockpit and injured a pilot’s eyes.
In January this year, a laser pointer was aimed at a passenger aircraft that was attempting to land at Inverness Airport.
Police Scotland said that the attack could have had “catastrophic consequences” had the flight crew been distracted.
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show that for the last full year of figures in 2014, Glasgow was the most dangerous Scottish location for laser strikes, with 64 occurrences recorded.
One particular tenement in the city has been called the ‘laser block’ by Mr McAuslan and Police Scotland, as so many incidents of laser strikes have originated from the building.
We repeat our call to the Government to classify lasers as offensive weaponsJim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilot’s Association
The figures for 2015, which at present have only recorded up until the third quarter of the year, show that Edinburgh was the tenth most dangerous airport in the UK for laser strikes and the most dangerous in Scotland ahead of Glasgow.
By comparison, London Heathrow topped the table with 83 recorded incidents during the same timeframe. Napoli Airport in Italy was the worst location in Europe during this time, but with only 23 laser strikes recorded, Scotland and the UK’s problems are arguably much more severe.
Concerns have been raised over the laser beam’s ability to refract as it hits the windshield of an airplane cockpit. The spreading of the light causes a blinding effect which can disorient the pilot, making it hard or impossible to read the gauges and dials in the cockpit.
A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and is also a specific criminal offence.
“Anyone convicted of shining a laser at an aircraft can face a significant fine or even imprisonment should the safety of an aircraft be endangered. We strongly urge anyone who sees a laser being used in the vicinity of a Scottish airport to contact the police immediately.”
In December 2015, a man who dazzled a Police Scotland helicopter pilot with a laser only months after the Clutha pub disaster was jailed for one year for his offence.
With the vast majority of laser offences across Britain involving portable, battery-powered lasers bought from the internet, it is tricky to regulate the sale and use of laser pointers.
The items are legal to purchase in the UK, provided they are under one milliwatt in power, and are classified from Class 1 to 4 depending on their strength.
Although disruption to aircraft caused by lasers is relatively uncommon, the Civil Aviation Authority recorded 1,440 reports of ‘laser strikes’ against planes in their most recent data. Only five years earlier, the number stood at 746 incidents.
Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), said: “Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength.
“We repeat our call to the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them.
Mr McAuslan added: “Pilots across the world know how dangerous laser attacks are. Shining a laser at an aircraft puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at completely unnecessary risk.
“Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight.