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Blinding laser attacks on airline pilots surge

The Local · 25 Oct 2010, 10:19

Published: 25 Oct 2010 10:19 GMT+02:00

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From January to the middle of September, there were 229 laser attacks on planes and helicopters, the Federal Agency of Aviation (LBA) has announced – a massive rise on the 35 reported for the whole of last year.

The high-powered lasers put the lives of the pilots as well as airline passengers and people on the ground at risk, aviation experts say, prompting calls for the devices to be treated as weapons.

At Düsseldorf Airport alone there were 15 such attacks in the first nine months of this year.

The number of cases has particularly spiked in the autumn, with its greater hours of darkness per day.

Air traffic controllers were powerless to do anything about the attacks, said Ute Otterbein, spokeswoman for the DFS air traffic authority.

“We can’t do anything about it, except pass on the information as quickly as possible,” she said.

Jörg Handwerg, spokesman for the pilots‘ association, Cockpit, said the reason for the dramatic spike in attacks was simple: “These dangerous, high-powered laser pointers are ever more common because they have become cheaper.”

Although sales of the high-powered versions of the device are actually banned in Germany, they can still be easily bought on the internet.

Yet many people still did not appreciate how dangerous the devices were, Otterbein said.

“They regard it simply as a stupid kids’ prank to blind someone with it,” she said.

Yet the attacks could have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Story continues below…

Handwerg added: “They can burn a hole in CDs or take away someone’s eyesight from hundreds of metres’ distance.”

He said that the lasers should be regarded as weapons and regulated with corresponding strictness.

Car drivers have also complained of laser blinding attacks.

DAPD/The Local/dw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:57 October 25, 2010 by dcgi
I just hope at some point curiosity gets the better of these "chavs with lasers" and they try shining it in their own eyes.
11:47 October 25, 2010 by concerned4u
Last time the same thing happened. At that time the culprits who did this laser pointing thing were not really arrested as they were so called "teenagers".

German police should wake up and do the right thing fast and stop this thing by arresting these criminals.

It is hard to believe that in a developed country where a lot of educated people live can happen this thing.
12:42 October 25, 2010 by dcgi
It's pretty worrying the type of lasers you can buy off the Internet these days, the one's that would burn though a CD etc. can still blind you even from scattered laser light, IMO anything more than a basic red-dot laser pointer for presentations should be banned, then the worse that can happen is some d*ck takes it out at the cinema to shine the screen.
13:49 October 25, 2010 by adipk
If they do this just for the sake of fun than its not fun. I am agree that it (lasers) should be banned in open market. @concerned4u , stupidity can be happen anywhere. Its not about educated or non educated people. Police cant stand before every house or at each road cross.
14:21 October 25, 2010 by auslanderus
Will it take a plane crash and people dieing before something is done to these fools?
15:58 October 25, 2010 by Frenemy
this is media fear-mongering at its best.

1) Even in final approach, most planes will not be crashed due to laser blindness (the development of ILS technology means that most planes are not landed by hand/eye coordination alone)

2) Simple solution to these "terrorist strikes" = applying intelli-tinting to the cockpit
18:16 October 25, 2010 by feuer
I do not think that Frenemy get's it. People can buy hand held lasers in the multiple Watt range now. A few Watts of coherent light can cause enormous damage to an eye. It can even do serious damage to materials (read, parts of the plane).

While it is just bad manners to go blinding random strangers, two pilots screaming and flailing around the cockpit on final approach because their retinas just got fried are definitely going to crash the plane. The ILS is not going to magically kick in and save the day.
18:27 October 25, 2010 by Frenemy
@feuer: have u ever flown a civilian airliner? No offense but my guess is no... (otherwise you'd have a clue about modern avionics)
20:46 October 25, 2010 by rlovato5811
This is not simply a German Problem. We have regular attacks on pilots approaching Sea-Tac International Airport near Seattle. This will continue to be a problem across the globe until we find a way to track detain and prosecute those responsible.

Perhaps someone can develop a 'Laser Finder' system similar to those used in big cities to triangulate for gunshot sounds. The technology must be out there to 'traceback' the lasers as I am sure the Defense industry would love to be able to 'traceback' targeting lasers and such.
22:13 October 25, 2010 by bestman
Whoever is caught doing this kind of stuff to planes should face jail time. I'll bet there is technology to triangulate the culprits as rivato5811 suggests but unfortunately it will take a crash to bring it to bear by the police.
04:07 October 26, 2010 by feuer
@Frenemy: I professionally analyze scientific data from systems like ILS (That is, only when something goes wrong). I understand how they work and I know their limitations. I have also worked with High Energy Lasers in laboratories. We never took them out of the laboratory.

As I understand it, the dazzling of the pilots comes from the laser scattering in the cockpit. While a direct hit to the eye is statistically difficult, a direct hit to the eye destroys the eye.

I have also been a passenger on a state-of-the-art commercial jet that was hit by a microburst/wind shear on final approach. I saw the wingtip hit the runway (with damage). The ILS did nothing. The [alert] pilots saved us. With a dazzled, or worse yet, blind pilot, we would have been a pile scrap metal and meat on the runway.

Using a toy laser pointer on someone is stupid. Using a high energy laser on airline pilots is terrorism. Full stop.

I still stand by my statement: "While it is just bad manners to go blinding random strangers..."

Do you still stand by this:

"...most planes will not be crashed due to laser blindness ."

Most planes will not???

Is less than "Most" planes crashing OK?

Any more questions?

You are obviously a troll, so I will leave this discussion now. Please look into the laser with your remaining eye.

08:39 October 26, 2010 by Joshontour
@ Frenemy, and you are an airline pilot? So you must know that a pilot may not continue an approach below minimum descent altitude (MDA) or MDH unless the intended runway is distinctly visible and identifiable to the pilot. If that pilot gets blinded when already below, there is no autoland button to push. The pilot will have to initiate a missed approach if above DH or try to land while blinded if below. If the pilot does initiate a missed approach, the minimum obstacle clearance cannot be maintained once below MDA, putting the passengers and crew in unnecessary danger. Do you want to be a passenger on a 90000kg machine heading toward the ground at 275km/h when the pilot is disorientated?
08:45 October 26, 2010 by Frenemy
@feuer: You had me up right up until you accused me of trolling. Now I just think you're an impetuous tool. (ask any of the frequent posters around here, I'm not a troll)

You might "professionally analyze scientific data from systems like ILS", but I professionally "analyze" weapons systems, and I can "professionally" tell you that lasers are not weapons (not yet anyway, just ask the folks at Boeing).

Terrorism? Let me guess, you are part of the crowd that believes AQ is developing 4th gen bioweapons in some London basement?! Sorry to disabuse you of your paranoia, but terrorists are inherently low tech. Bullets and explosives are a lot more cost effective than full scale R&D programs.

In order crash a plane in the manner you suggest (seconds before wheels-down), you'd pretty much need to be in the control tower for that. At higher altitudes you would need a megawatt-class laser, and quite frankly a surface-2-air missile is much cheaper...
11:10 October 26, 2010 by Joshontour
@ Frenemy, So a weapons system analyst thinks they know something about flying airplanes. I am an airline pilot, and I can tell you that this is genuinely a dangerous situation. I think you ignored responding to my last post because you don't want to admit you were wrong. It's hard enough to land on runway 25 in Stuttgart or Frankfurt at dusk when the sun is blinding you; but at least you know what to expect.

Btw. when I opened this article on the Local, an ad for high powered green lasers popped up on "ads by Google" section on the right side of the screen. As my favourite troller on the local would say.... komisch
11:46 October 26, 2010 by Frenemy
@joshontour: I didn't respond to your comment cuz I didn't see it (I need to use F5 more often).

I never claimed to know anything about FLYING a plane, only bringing them down (if that doesn't get me flagged I don't know what will). Anyway, I do have a hand in designing tactical combat aircraft, radar tech, and seeker heads (so its safe to assume that I'm familiar with the field).

But I think I DID, in a way, respond to your comment in post #13 (re: laser position during the last few seconds of final approach)

BTW: lol about the Google analytics thing. Can't say that I'm surprised tho ;-)
02:09 October 28, 2010 by Gretl
Hmm...could all this debate regarding whether it is terrorism be because we all read the same Tom Clancy novel? The same author who published a book with the plotline being using aircraft as weapons to take out buildings of people? He published the ideas, which were translated for sale all over the world, people read them and said,"hey, I could pull that off!" I choose not to read him anymore because I hold him directly responsible for publishing a "how-to" manual on terrorism. Lasers pointed at airline pilots were published, too.
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