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Under certain conditions, laser light or other bright lights (spotlights, searchlights) directed at aircraft can be a hazard. The most likely scenario is when a bright visible laser light causes distraction or temporary flash blindness to a pilot, during a critical phase of flight such as landing or takeoff. It is far less likely, though still possible, that a visible or invisible beam could cause permanent harm to a pilot's eyes. Although laser weapons are under development by militaries, these are so specialized, expensive and controlled that it is improbable for non-military lasers to cause structural damage to an aircraft.
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". The first laser was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories, based on theoretical work by Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow.
Flash blindness is a visual impairment during and following exposure to a light flash of extremely high intensity. The bright light overwhelms the eye and gradually fades, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Landing is the last part of a flight, where a flying animal, aircraft, or spacecraft returns to the ground. When the flying object returns to water, the process is called alighting, although it is commonly called "landing", "touchdown" or "splashdown" as well. A normal aircraft flight would include several parts of flight including taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and landing.
Aviation hazards from bright light can be minimized or eliminated in two primary ways. First, users on the ground can exercise caution, to prevent or minimize any laser or other bright light being directed in airspace and especially towards aircraft. Second, pilots should have awareness of laser/aviation hazards and knowledge of basic recovery procedures in case of laser or bright light exposure.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft can be hazardous to pilotsand has resulted in arrests, trials and jail sentences. It also results in calls to license or ban laser pointers. Some jurisdictions such as New South Wales, Australia have restricted laser pointers as a result of multiple incidents.
New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In March 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 7.9 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.
Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
In addition to lasers, other bright directional lights such as searchlights and spotlights can have the same dazzling, distracting, and flashblinding effects. Searchlight and spotlight operators should take the same basic precautions as laser users. Similarly, pilots and safety officials should keep in mind that a reported "laser" incident may be caused by a non-laser bright light.
There are many valid reasons that lasers are aimed into airspace. Lasers are used in industry and research, such as in atmospheric remote sensing, and as "guide stars" in adaptive optics astronomy. Lasers and searchlights are used in entertainment; for example, in outdoor shows such as the nightly IllumiNations show at Walt Disney World's Epcot. Laser pointers are used by the general public; sometimes they will be accidentally or deliberately aimed at or near aircraft. (Of course, no unauthorized person should deliberately aim any type of laser at or near an aircraft.)
Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object and thus in contrast to on-site observation, especially the Earth. Remote sensing is used in numerous fields, including geography, land surveying and most Earth Science disciplines ; it also has military, intelligence, commercial, economic, planning, and humanitarian applications.
IllumiNations was a series of nightly fireworks shows at Epcot before IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth was created in 1999 for the Millennium Celebration.
The Walt Disney World Resort, also called Walt Disney World and Disney World, is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in the United States, near the cities Orlando and Kissimmee. Opened on October 1, 1971, the resort is owned and operated by Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, a division of The Walt Disney Company. It was first operated by Walt Disney World Company. The property, which covers nearly 25,000 acres, only half of which has been used, comprises four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non-Disney hotels, several golf courses, a camping resort, and other entertainment venues, including the outdoor shopping center Disney Springs.
Lasers are even used, or proposed for use, with aircraft. Pilots straying into unauthorized airspace over Washington, D.C. can be warned to turn back by shining eye-safe low-power red and green lasers at them.At least one system has been tested that would use lasers on final approach to help line up the pilot on the proper glideslope. NASA has tested a Helicopter Airborne Laser Positioning System. The FAA has tested laser-projected lines on airport runways, to increase visibility of "hold short" markings.
Because of these varied uses, it is not practical to ban lasers from airspace. This would unduly restrict legitimate uses, it would not prevent accidental illumination incidents, and it would not stop someone who deliberately, out of malice or ignorance, targeted aircraft. For this reason, practical laser/aviation safety is based on informed users and informed pilots.
(Note: The photos at right flash because most incidents are of flashes and not of steady illumination. In accidental illuminations there may be just one or a few flashes. Even in deliberate illuminations, it is hard to hand-hold a laser on a moving target, so there will be a series of longer flashes. With helicopters at close range, it is possible to have a more or less continuous light. The flashes shown greatly exaggerate the duration of a laser flash and use green rather than less visible red light. With a plane traveling hundreds of miles/hour and a laser beam size of only a meter or so, flash durations would be measured in thousandths of a second.)
There are some subjects which laser/aviation safety experts agree pose no real hazard. These include passenger exposure to laser light, pilot distraction during cruising or other non-critical phases of flight, and laser damage to the aircraft.
The main concerns of safety experts are almost exclusively focused on laser and bright light effects on pilots, especially when they are in a critical phase of flight: takeoff, approach, landing, and emergency maneuvers.
There are four primary areas of concern. The first three are "visual effects" that temporarily distract or block pilots' vision. These effects are only of concern when the laser emits visible light.
The three visual effects above are the primary concern for aviation experts. This is because they could happen with lower-powered lasers that are commonly available. The fourth concern, eye damage, is much less likely. It would take specialized equipment not readily available to the general public.
It is extremely unlikely that any of the four elements above would cause loss of the aircraft, especially if the pilots react properly and work as a team.
The exact hazard in a specific situation depends on a number of factors.
The U.S. FAA has studied some of these factors.They conducted research using pilots in flight simulators to determine the effects of laser exposure on pilot performance; results were released in August 2003 and June 2004.
The graphic (right) shows many important laser/aviation safety concepts.For example, it shows that the areas of most concern—eye damage, flash blindness and glare—occur relatively close to the aircraft. The distraction risk covers the longest hazard distance, but fortunately also presents the least concern. The photos in the graphic also give an idea of what the visual effect looks like to the pilot, at various distances.
Note that while the distances given are exact ("52 feet", "262 feet"), the laser's brightness is in fact falling off slowly. It is not as if at 51 feet the laser is an eye hazard and at 53 feet it is eye safe. Effects diminish continuously with increasing distance.
Also, the weaker effects are part of any stronger effect. Even if a laser does not cause eye damage at 25 feet, it can still cause flash blindness, glare and a distraction.
For any given laser, the relative distances shown here may change. For example, an invisible (infrared) laser can be an eye hazard for hundreds of feet, but presents no flash blindness, glare or distraction hazard. Because of this, each laser must be analyzed individually.
To give another example, here are calculations of a more powerful laser—the type that might be used in an outdoor laser show. A 6-watt green (532 nm) laser with a 1.1 milliradian beam divergence is an eye hazard to about 1,600 feet (490 meters), can cause flash blindness to about 8,200 feet (1.5 mi/2.5 km), causes veiling glare to about 36,800 feet (7 mi; 11 km), and is a distraction to about 368,000 feet (70 mi; 110 km). [ better source needed ]
There are a number of ways that laser users, regulators and pilots reduce the potential hazard from outdoor laser use. These measures include:
Police have begun using helicopters to patrol and seek out people using lasers to disrupt aviation.
Some measures have been proposed to protect aircrews including goggles and windscreen filters.These may work in theory (especially against known wavelengths) and may be useful in some situations such as military operations. However, these measures may not be suitable, practical or recommended for widespread civil air operations.
In the United States, laser airspace guidelines can be found in Federal Aviation Administration Order JO 7400.2, Chapter 29 "Outdoor Laser Operations", and bright light airspace guidelines are in Chapter 30 "High Intensity Light Operations".
In the United Kingdom, CAP 736 is the "Guide for the Operation of Lasers, Searchlights and Fireworks in United Kingdom Airspace."
For all laser users, the ANSI Z136.6 document gives guidance for the safe use of outdoor lasers.While this document is copyrighted by ANSI and is relatively costly, a flavor of its recommendations can be seen in NASA's Use Policy for Outdoor Lasers.
The U.S. FAA has established airspace zones. These protect the area around airports and other sensitive airspace from the hazards of safe-but-too-bright visible laser light exposure:
For non-visible lasers (infrared and ultraviolet), the irradiance at the aircraft must be eye-safe—below the Maximum Permissible Exposure level for that wavelength. For pulsed visible lasers, the irradiance at the aircraft must be both eye-safe and must be at or below any applicable FAA laser zone.
In the UK, restrictions are in place in a zone that includes a circle 3 nmi (5.6 km) in radius around an aerodrome (airport) plus extensions off each end of each runway. The runway zones are rectangles 20 nmi (37 km) in total length and 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) wide, centered about each runway.
In the U.S., those persons operating outdoor lasers are requested to file reports with the FAA at least 30 days in advance, detailing their laser power(s). They must reference their operation location with respect to local airports and describe the laser power emitted within the Sensitive, Critical and Laser Free zones. Note that it is possible to use lasers whose output exceeds the limits of these zones, if other control measures are in place. For example, spotters could be used to watch for aircraft, and turn off the laser if a potential conflict is sighted. (This raises separate issues about the number, training and effectiveness of the spotters; the FAA must be satisfied that these issues are answered for the particular operation.)
FAA Advisory Circular 70-1"Outdoor Laser Operations" contains two forms plus instructions. One form is a "Notice of Proposed Laser Operations", the other is a "Laser Configuration Worksheet" which is filled out for each laser or each different laser configuration. The FAA will review the report, and will either send a letter of objection or will send a letter of non-objection. The language is important; the FAA does not "approve" or "disapprove" as this implies a higher level of regulatory authority which the FAA does not have.
If the laser use is for a show or display in the U.S., there is a more stringent regulatory process. In the U.S., any use of lasers in a show or display requires pre-approval from the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health. This is required both for the laser equipment, and separately for the show itself (site, audience configuration, beam effects, etc.). As part of the CDRH's show approval ("variance") process, the CDRH will require a letter of non-objection from the FAA. Without this, the laser show cannot legally proceed.
In the U.S., laser activity in a given area is communicated to pilots before their flight via a NOTAM.Pilots exposed to a laser or bright light during flight should follow Advisory Circular 70-2 "Reporting of Laser Illumination of Aircraft".
UK laser operators report outdoor laser, searchlight or firework operations at least 28 days in advance, using the Notification Form found in annex A of the CAP 736 document.
A key group inside the U.S. working on laser/aviation safety is the SAE G-10T, Laser Safety Hazards Subcommittee. It consists of laser safety experts and researchers, pilots and other interested parties representing military, commercial and private aviation, and laser users. Their recommendations have formed the basis of the FAA laser and bright light regulations and forms, as well as standards adopted in other countries and by the ICAO.
The ANSI Z136.6 standard is the "American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers Outdoors."The Z136.6 committee has worked closely with SAE G-10T and others, to develop recommended safety procedures for outdoor laser use.
Until the early 1990s, laser and bright light aviation incidents were sporadic. In the U.S., NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System showed only one or two incidents per year.The SAE G-10T subcommittee began meeting around 1993 as the number of incidents grew. Almost all of the incidents were known or suspected to be due to outdoor laser displays. Almost all of the concern was over potential eye damage; at the time visual effects were felt to be a minor consequence.
In late 1995, a number of illumination incidents occurred in Las Vegas due to new outdoor laser displays. Although the displays had been approved by the FDA as eye-safe for their airport proximity, no one had realized that the glare/distraction hazard would adversely affect pilots. In December 1995 the FDA issued an emergency order shutting down the Las Vegas shows.
Within the SAE G-10T subcommittee, there was some consideration about cutting back or banning laser shows. However, it became apparent that there were a large number of non-entertainment laser users as well. The focus shifted to control of known laser users, whether shows or industry/research. New policies and procedures were developed, such as the FAA 7200 Chapter 29, and Advisory Circular 70-1. Although incidents continued to occur (from January 1996 to July 1999, the FAA's Western-Pacific Region identified more than 150 incidents in which low-flying aircraft were illuminated by lasers),the situation seemed under control.
Then in late 2004 and early 2005, came a significant increase in reported incidents linked to laser pointers. The wave of incidents may have been triggered in part by "copycats" who read press accounts of laser pointer incidents. In one case, David Banach of New Jersey was charged under federal Patriot Act anti-terrorism laws, after he allegedly shone a laser pointer at aircraft.
Responding to the incidents, the Congressional Research Service issued a study on the laser "threat to aviation safety and security."Because there was no federal law specifically banning deliberate laser illumination of aircraft, Congressman Ric Keller introduced H.R. 1400, the "Securing Airplane Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2005." The bill was passed by the U.S. House and Senate, but did not go to conference and thus did not become law. In 2007, Keller re-introduced the bill as H.R. 1615. Although passed by the House in May 2007, it was not acted on by the Senate before the end of the 110th Congress and never became law.
On March 28, 2008, a "coordinated attack" took place using four green laser pointers aimed at six aircraft landing at the Sydney (New South Wales) Australia airport.As a result of this attack plus others, a law was proposed in mid-April 2008 in NSW to ban possession of handheld lasers, even "harmless classroom pointers". The Australian state of Victoria has reportedly had a similar ban since 1998, but press reports state that it is easy to buy lasers without a permit.
On February 22, 2009, a dozen planes were targeted with green laser beams at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.An FAA spokeswoman said there were 148 laser attacks on aircraft in the U.S. from January 1, 2009 to February 23, 2009.
During the July 2013 protests of the Morsi Presidency in Egypt and later celebration of his removal, thousands of protesters and revelers aimed laser pointers at government helicopters.
On February 2016 a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York JFK Airport was forced to turn back when a laser beam was shone into the cockpit.The incident led BALPA to call for lasers to be classified as offensive weapons.
In the first seven months of 2018, United States Armed Forces pilots were targeted with laser points in multiple regions, but particularly in the Middle East.
Instrument flight rules (IFR) is one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other is visual flight rules (VFR).
Visual flight rules (VFR) are a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minima, i.e. in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), as specified in the rules of the relevant aviation authority. The pilot must be able to operate the aircraft with visual reference to the ground, and by visually avoiding obstructions and other aircraft.
A laser lighting display or laser light show involves the use of laser light to entertain an audience. A laser light show may consist only of projected laser beams set to music, or may accompany another form of entertainment, typically musical performances.
Aviation is the design, development, production, operation, and use of aircraft, especially heavier-than-air aircraft. Articles related to aviation include:
Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 was a Boeing 727-214 commercial airliner, registration, N533PS that collided with a private Cessna 172 light aircraft, registration, N7711G over San Diego, California, at 9:01 am on Monday, September 25, 1978. It was Pacific Southwest Airlines' first fatal accident.
Airspace is the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory, including its territorial waters or, more generally, any specific three-dimensional portion of the atmosphere. It is not the same as aerospace, which is the general term for Earth's atmosphere and the outer space in its vicinity.
A head-up display or heads-up display, also known as a HUD, is any transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. The origin of the name stems from a pilot being able to view information with the head positioned "up" and looking forward, instead of angled down looking at lower instruments. A HUD also has the advantage that the pilot's eyes do not need to refocus to view the outside after looking at the optically nearer instruments.
An Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has existed since February 10, 2003, around the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area to restrict air traffic near Washington, D.C.
Aviation safety means the state of an aviation system or organization in which risks associated with aviation activities, related to, or in direct support of the operation of aircraft, are reduced and controlled to an acceptable level. It encompasses the theory, practice, investigation, and categorization of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education, and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.
Air Canada Flight 797 was an international passenger flight operating from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Montréal–Dorval International Airport, with an intermediate stop at Toronto Pearson International Airport. On June 2, 1983, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 operating the service developed an in-flight fire behind the lavatory that spread between the outer skin and the inner decor panels, filling the plane with toxic smoke. The spreading fire also burned through crucial electrical cables that disabled most of the instrumentation in the cockpit, forcing the plane to divert to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Ninety seconds after the plane landed and the doors were opened, the heat of the fire and fresh oxygen from the open exit doors created flashover conditions, and the plane's interior immediately became engulfed in flames, killing 23 passengers who had yet to evacuate the aircraft.
Laser safety is the safe design, use and implementation of lasers to minimize the risk of laser accidents, especially those involving eye injuries. Since even relatively small amounts of laser light can lead to permanent eye injuries, the sale and usage of lasers is typically subject to government regulations.
A laser pointer or laser pen is a small handheld device with a power source and a laser diode emitting a very narrow coherent low-powered laser beam of visible light, intended to be used to highlight something of interest by illuminating it with a small bright spot of colored light. Power is restricted in most jurisdictions not to exceed 5 mW.
A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) is a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the safety of the flight. NOTAMs are unclassified notices or advisories distributed by means of telecommunication that contain information concerning the establishment, conditions or change in any aeronautical facility, service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to personnel and systems concerned with flight operations. NOTAMs are created and transmitted by government agencies and airport operators under guidelines specified by Annex 15: Aeronautical Information Services of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (CICA). The term NOTAM came into common use rather than the more formal Notice to Airmen following the ratification of the CICA, which came into effect on 4 April 1947. Notices to Airmen were normally published in a regular publication by each country's air authorities. A number of developments and amendments to the CICA have resulted in the more automated system available today.
Because human senses are adapted for use on the ground, navigating by sensory input alone during flight can be dangerous: sensory input does not always accurately reflect the movement of the aircraft, causing sensory illusions. These illusions can be extremely dangerous for pilots.
On September 9, 1969, Allegheny Airlines Flight 853, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 passenger jet, collided in mid-air with a Piper PA-28 light aircraft near Fairland, Indiana, United States. The DC-9 was carrying 78 passengers and 4 crew members. The Piper was leased to a student pilot on a solo cross-country flight. All 83 occupants of both aircraft were killed in the accident and both aircraft were destroyed by the collision and ground impact.
The Sterile Cockpit Rule is an informal name for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation stating that all operators certificate holders shall not require, nor may any flight crewmember perform, any duties during a critical phase of flight except those duties required for the safe operation of the aircraft.
Landing lights are lights, mounted on aircraft, that illuminate the terrain and runway ahead during takeoff and landing.
The National Airspace System (NAS) is the airspace, navigation facilities and airports of the United States along with their associated information, services, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, personnel and equipment. It includes components shared jointly with the military. It is one of the most complex aviation systems in the world and services air travel in the United States and over large portions of the world's oceans.
Automatic dependent surveillance—broadcast (ADS–B) is a surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. The information can be received by air traffic control ground stations as a replacement for secondary surveillance radar, as no interrogation signal is needed from the ground. It can also be received by other aircraft to provide situational awareness and allow self-separation.