More than 200 aircraft struck by lasers

There have been at least 200 reported laser strikes on aircraft since new legislation was brought in to curb the issue. Photo/FILE
There have been at least 200 reported laser strikes on aircraft since new legislation was brought in to curb the issue. Photo/FILE

At least 200 aircraft have been hit by lasers in the last two years after a law criminalised public possession in an attempt to curb the issue.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show the law - which was established in July 2014 - has had little effect on the number of reported incidents, with 2016 on track to have the most aircraft laser strikes since at least 2009.

This year, there have been 108 reports of laser strikes, already more than last year's total and second only to 2013's 117 incidents.

The July 2014 amendment to the Summary Offences Act 1981 made possession of a high-powered laser pointer without reasonable excuse an imprisonable offence.

Offenders could be imprisoned for up to three months or receive a fine of up to $2000.

A few months earlier, the Government ushered in new controls to restrict the availability of high-powered laser pointers - defined as more than 1 milliwatt - without authorisation.

The number of reported incidents dipped slightly from 2014 to 2015 - from 105 to 99 - but this year's 108 incidents had already overtaken both years since the law change.

Last night, several international flights arriving at Auckland Airport, a helicopter and a domestic flight landing in Wellington reported being struck by a laser pointer.

All flights landed safely. Police were alerted to the incidents but did not find anyone.

New Zealand Airline Pilots Association president Tim Robinson told NZME targeting aircraft with lasers was incredibly dangerous.

"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 possibility," said Taylor.

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.

There have been 838 laser strike reports in New Zealand since 2009. Auckland and Northland have had 328 reports, according to Civil Aviation Authority figures.

Year - Laser Strike Reports
2009 - 56
2010 - 91
2011 - 102
2012 - 103
2013 - 117
2014 - 105
2015 - 99
2016 (to date) - 108
Grand Total - 838

Region - Laser Strike Reports
Auckland/Northland - 328
Christchurch, Otago, Southland - 133
International - 76
Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast - 21
Not Reported - 11
Palmerston North, Whanganui - 46
Waikato, Taranaki, BoP, Hawke's Bay - 132
Wellington, Otaki - 91
Grand Total - 838

- NZ Herald

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