Police say their own helicopter has been hit by lasers as pilots warn strikes on aircraft over New Zealand skies could end in catastrophe.
Domestic and international passengers planes and a helicopter have been targeted in a spate of laser strikes overnight in Auckland and Wellington.
Police have today revealed that even their own Eagle helicopter was hit by a laser strike over Otahuhu this week. The person responsible was found and referred to Youth Aid.
Investigations were continuing into reports from pilots of the latest laser attacks.
New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association president Tim Robinson denounced the strikes saying the powerful beams posed a huge risk to airline safety.
"If it continues to happen you roll the dice and the chances of a very serious accident occurring is just a matter of time," said Robinson.
He said when the beams struck the cockpit an enormous blinding light filled the flight deck as pilots were often in the hand-operated phase of flying.
"They are having to turn away from the bright light and shield their eyes. It's incredibly disorientating and it confuses them."
Auckland rescue helicopter pilot James Taylor said the blinding beams were a crippling distraction and wrecked the vision of helicopter pilots using night goggles.
It threatened to end in tragedy, especially if a single-crewed helicopter was targeted.
"A crash could be a real possiblity," said Taylor.
"The hardest bit of flying a helicopter is the last few metres down to the ground and if you can't see while you're doing that then there is a very strong likelihood of crashing."
He said lasers could permanently damaging a pilot's eyesight.
Even weaker lasers were dangerous as they could prove a major distration to the pilot.
"It's a major distraction to the pilot when you suddenly have a bright light in the cockpit that you're not expecting."
Taylor said pilots using night-vision goggles were compromised if a laser was used as eye needed to be adapted to the dark.
"If a bright light gets shone in your eyes it takes quite a long time, even if they're not permanently damaged, to recover. You're going from being able to see to suddenly not being able to see. Even if the laser's been turned off it takes quite a long time for your eyes to get back to where they were to being able to see again."
He said the use of lasers against pilots was sheer stupidity and needed to be treated as deliberate sabotage of an aircraft.
Robinson called for the judiciary to take a harder line in sentencing to deter others from shining lasers into cockpits and reflect the enormous risk to flight safety.
Today the flight attendants' union E tu condemned the recent spate of laser strikes targeting flights near Auckland and Wellington airports as irresponsible and potentially lethal.
Aviation spokesman Kelvin Ellis said the pilots in the Wellington strike were temporarily blinded, and though they landed safely, the outcome could have been catastrophic.
"These strikes put everyone at risk, including the pilots, flight attendants and the public," said Ellis.
Police said when they recieved reports of laser strikes a range of inquiries were made and, where possible, the Eagle helicopter was sent to try to pinpoint and track the visual line of the laser.
Anyone caught was likely to face charges such as endangering transport or criminal nuisance.
"Anyone using a laser pointer on an aircraft is putting the lives of those on board in serious danger. To the person pointing the laser, it may just be a little dot of light, whereas for the person on the other end, it is a large illumination that can cause eye damage, flash blindness and headaches," said Air Support Unit tactical flight officer senior constable Shane Gealey.
Last month, a Mangere man was identified and charged with endangering transport. He is currently before the courts.
Over the past 12 months the Police Eagle helicopter suffered 10 major laser strikes.