Courts need to understand laser dangers - pilots


The courts need to deal harshly with people who shine lasers at aircraft to act as a deterrent, the Air Line Pilots' Association (ALPA) says.

The comment comes after laser strikes on planes in Auckland and Wellington over the past 24 hours, which could push such incidents to record levels this year.

A number of international flights at Auckland Airport were targeted on Friday morning, as well as a helicopter in Auckland and flight between Hamilton and Wellington between 8pm and 9pm on Tuesday.

ALPA president Tim Robinson, who has experienced the "disorienting" act first-hand, says judges need to understand how dangerous the crime is.

"We think our judges have to be aware this is a serious flight safety risk and the sentences should be appropriate to the risk these folk are taking."

Those charged with such offences under the Civil Aviation Act face a maximum of two years in prison or a fine of $10,000.

Offenders can also be charged under the Crimes Act for endangering transport, which carries a maximum of 14 years in prison.

But Mr Robinson says those kinds of sentences aren't being handed down.

"It's like someone shining a torch straight in your eye. The laser hits the flight deck windows, it diffuses, and depending on the colour of the laser you've got this massive green or red light throughout the flight deck.

"It is incredibly confusing for the pilots and it can put them off the safe operation of the aircraft."

If they're distracted enough, people could die because take-off and landing are the most common times for lasers to hit the cockpit.

He thinks laser strikes on the rise, but with importing high-powered lasers now banned there should be fewer incidences.

The latest strikes have been condemned by the E tu union, calling them "irresponsible and potentially lethal".

E tu director of organising aviation, Kelvin Ellis, says pilots on the Wellington flight were temporarily blinded. The flight landed safely, but the result "could have been catastrophic".

Mr Ellis says landing in Wellington is difficult enough without having to think about the threat of laser strikes.

The Civil Aviation Authority says there have already been 108 laser strikes on aircraft this year - which is already more than the 99 all of last year.

A man was arrested on Thursday night after failing to show up at his sentencing for pointing a laser at a plane landing in Christchurch earlier this year.

The Ministry of Health introduced legislation in 2013 to impose controls on the importation and use of high-powered laser pointers.