Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Tauranga laser strikes alarm pilots

Rescue helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly. Photo/ George Novak
Rescue helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly. Photo/ George Novak

Pilots have raised concerns about night-time laser strikes on aircraft flying above Tauranga - including rescue helicopters and passenger planes.

The Civil Aviation Authority has already recorded four reports this year of people shining lasers into or near planes and helicopters in the Bay of Plenty. That equals the number of reports for the entire year in 2015. Six laser strikes were recorded in 2014.

TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly said he had experienced people using lasers before "but not for a long time".

"It does happen in Tauranga."

Mr Brettkelly referred to a recent case where a passenger aircraft reported a laser being shone at it as it flew over the Te Maunga area.

"It can affect our night vision, absolutely," Mr Brettkelly said.

"You know what it's like, shining a bright light into your eyes in the dark. They can affect you for several minutes. Night vision goggles are sensitive to bright lights."

Rotorua's BayTrust Rescue Helicopter pilot and base manager Barry Vincent said lasers were extremely dangerous and a major distraction.

"Even a small laser from ground level shining up in our cockpit at 1000 feet (304m), the width of the beam widens. It can fill the whole cockpit," he said.

Mr Vincent said he had experienced a laser targeting him while in flight.

"It's obviously very distracting and can be blinding. You can suffer serious eye damage from it. It's not a sensible thing to do. Unfortunately there are people who still do it."

The BayTrust helicopter was often called upon for Western Bay of Plenty emergencies when the Tauranga-based TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter was busy.

Mr Vincent said he reported his experience to the Civil Aviation Authority.

"I know the officials take quite a strong view of it and if they can locate the individual responsible, the police do look on it pretty sternly."

Any person believed to have been shining a laser at passing aircraft could be charged with causing unnecessary danger, and face a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months or a fine of up to $10,000.

Civil Aviation Authority corporate communications manager Mike Richards said large and medium-sized passenger aircraft were the most commonly targeted, meaning that laser strikes could cause an extremely high level of public harm in an accident.

"Pointing lasers at planes is a serious offence under the Civil Aviation Act and represents a threat to safety which we take very seriously," Mr Richards said.

"Laser illumination of aircraft can cause distraction, disorientation, and discomfort for pilots resulting in a potentially hazardous situation during critical phases of flight."

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