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Laser terrorism: view from the cockpit

Published time: July 24, 2011 18:14
Edited time: July 24, 2011 23:10

For a couple of seconds, try to step into a pilot’s shoes. They have enough troubles to struggle with, but when poor visibility is caused not by bad weather, but by carelessness or hooliganism, this is an evil that can and must be prevented.

Laser pens are no toys when they can reach the top floor of an apartment building or set a piece of paper on fire. Powerful laser pens’ beams can reach 9 kilometers or further – a distance equal to the altitude of an average passenger aircraft.

A landing aircraft, of course, is that much closer to the source of a laser pen’s beam.

Pilots unanimously say that the effect of a laser-pen’s beam in the cockpit is very similar to the effect of a car’s high-beam headlights at a short distance – it blinds you.

If a careless driver forgets to dim the high beam in proper time, or turns it on when approached from the opposite direction, the headlights will blind the other driver for a second or two. Who knows what the traffic situation is. In this case, the blinded driver is pretty much taking his or her chances behind the wheel.

But what do those chances look like when you are steering not a car but an airplane, high off the ground, with a full control panel all around you, and you are responsible not only for your own safety but that of 200 or so passengers outside the cockpit?

The decision-making time before a landing is only 10 critical seconds, pilots say – and these moments are not to fight green laser beams, but to make critically important decisions.

Laser-beam hooligans have lost their harmless “hooligan” status. Pilots are quick on the draw and call them terrorists. And statistics show they deserve such a harsh description.

Over the last three months, there have been 17 reported cases of laser attacks on aircraft in Moscow alone.

The problem is that Russian law does not impose criminal penalties for such laser attacks.

If such an attack leads to fatal consequences, the price will be high indeed.

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