Each year, tens of thousands of incidents involving laser beams aimed at aircraft are recorded worldwide. The latest incident was on 14 February at London Heathrow Airport, when a Virgin Atlantic pilot was blinded by a laser from ground level. As a precaution, the plane, an A340 bound for New York, turned back, as can be heard in this radio exchange between the aircraft and air traffic control... "Pan. Pan. Pan. Virgin Two Five Bravo. Pan. We have a medical issue with one of the pilots after a laser incident after take-off. We are going to return to Heathrow."
As Patrick Pujol, air police explains, "The laser firing angle means that generally, only one pilot can be hit at once. Even so, it's dangerous because dazzled aircrew can be temporarily blinded. That’s to say, for about twenty minutes, they will not be able to see everything clearly on the illuminated instrument panel."
Over the last ten years, this phenomenon has been on the increase. Many still consider it a game, like these young Canadians who have just pointed their laser at a police helicopter. Filmed with a thermal camera they will be arrested later by police officers on the ground.
Messing with security is not a game because the consequences can be dramatic. Legal actions are also on the increase. For "Deliberate obstruction of air navigation", the penalties, ranging from fines to jail time, vary from one country to another.