These lasers could knock a passenger jet out of the sky
Britain’s largest pilots’ union is so concerned by a recent spate of incidents it has issued an emergency bulletin to members advising them how to avoid being blinded and losing control of their planes.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) now wants the law changed so anyone caught in possession of the higher powered lasers without a “legitimate reason” to be jailed.
“Slaps on wrists and £150 fines are not enough - custodial sentences should be the norm,” a spokesman said yesterday.
Most of the attacks are on large commercial jets, but even military planes carrying injured troops home from Afghanistan to hospitals in the Midlands have been targeted.
Police helicopters chasing criminals over densely populated areas are also regularly hit.
In most cases the beams are being shone by mindless youths, but pilots and security experts worry terrorists could also use them.
The incidents are all contained in official reports logged with the Civil Aviation Authority and obtained by the Sunday Express.
Planes are being struck at the rate of five times a day by beams from high intensity laser pens that can be bought online from as little as £12.
The more powerful products emit bright green beams and cost about £400, with a range of up to 200 miles.
Operated by standard batteries, they are usually used as presentational aids by teachers and lecturers, but retailers also sell the more powerful devices to astronomers and construction site workers.
One online retailer, MegalaserUK, which sells “hundreds a year” warns “they are not toys” but boasts: “The Hi-tec lasers are unreal.
“Its immense power of 500mW (milliwatt) or 800mW housed in a beautifully styled aircraft grade alloy has to be seen to be believed.
“They will light a match in a fraction of a second, melt plastics with ease and has the most incredibly bright beam you are ever likely to see.
“They are so powerful that they have to be sold with a safety system and has a unique built in cooling system.”
Videos are shown on its website to prove its claims.
Prospective buyers must tick a box agreeing not to shine the rays in the direction of aircraft or within two miles of an airport.
However, Balpa believes this is not nearly enough.
It and the Civil Aviation Authority warn that a jet could crash.
Last year, 1,570 laser attack incidents were logged with the CAA and in 2011 the figure was 1,911.
The beams have been spotted coming from moving cars, houses and hotels.
Each incident is reported to the police but arrests and prosecutions are rare.
It has been an issue with pilots for several years, but July and August saw an alarming spike in the number of attacks on commercial jets.
Entire pages of the CAA logs are littered with the phrase “green laser attack”.
Airports at Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the East Midlands, Bristol, Heathrow and Gatwick all feature prominently.
The airlines affected are not disclosed.
One Boeing 737 approaching Birmingham Airport on August 1 filed five separate reports.
British planes are also being targeted at foreign airports.
Cairo Airport in Egypt appears to be a particular problem, with one Boeing 767 carrying up to 250 Britons was hit “in excess of 100 times” by a green laser on July 28.
Several incidents have also been reported at the country’s Red Sea tourist destination Sharm el Sheikh.
Even military aircraft are vulnerable.
On May 4, 2011, a transporter plane carrying injured British troops from Afghanistan was hit by a green laser as it made its final approach to Birmingham airport.
In September that year, two other military planes were targeted.
One flying at 4,000ft was struck near Birmingham, while a fortnight later a plane at 2,000ft was targeted as it came in to land.
This month, Balpa issued a new alert to pilots and explained what to do if hit.
It wrote: “A recent spate of incidents in the UK involving lasers directed at landing aircraft is evidence that they continue to be a threat to aviation.
“In August several aircraft operating into Gatwick, Liverpool and East Midlands were illuminated with a strong laser by persons on the ground, whilst flying visual approaches.
“Although fortunately no direct eye contact with the beam was made, the potential for a temporary loss of vision was very real and the results could have been much worse.”
It added: “It is possible that a laser successfully aimed at the flight deck will be presaged by unsuccessful attempts to do so; these will be seen as extremely bright flashes coming from the ground and/or visible in the sky near the aircraft.
“Treat these flashes as a warning you are about to be targeted and prepare to shield the eyes.
“Do not look in the direction of any suspicious light. Do not rub the eyes.
“If the other front seat pilot has not been affected, he or she should immediately assume or maintain control of the aircraft.
A bright green light from a £12 laser could temporarily 'blind' a pilot [ALAMY]
Slap on wrists and £150 fines are not enough - custodial sentences should be the norm
The British Airline Pilots’ Association
“Manoeuvre to block the laser, if possible and subject to air traffic control.
“If on approach, consider a go-around.”
Balpa believes the law on the use of lasers needs strengthening.
While it has been a specific criminal offence to shine a laser at an aircraft since 2010, pilots argue they are too easily available.
In Australia use of the more powerful lasers is banned, but in Britain they are only removed from sale if the laser’s wavelengths are considered unsafe.
Balpa spokesman Richard Toomer said: “Laser attacks on aircraft are a growing problem.
“They are incredibly dangerous.
“We believe it is time for the Government to look seriously at the criminalisation of the possession of high powered lasers for those without a legitimate reason to have one.
“We believe the police need the power to confiscate these weapons, and the judiciary need to better realise the danger involved.
“Slaps on wrists and £150 fines are not enough; custodial sentences should be the norm.”
A CAA spokesman said: “Being dazzled and temporarily blinded by an intense light could potentially lead to flight crew losing control of the aircraft.”
MegalasersUK boss Shane Michael said he had passed trading standards tests and sells a “few hundred” laser pens a year.
He said he he sold only to adults, but added: “They could be banned at any time, especially if idiots keep shining them at planes.
“It’s like anything. People who sell knives aren’t responsible if they’re then used as weapons.”