A Christchurch builder who shone a laser pointer at an international passenger jet carrying 121 passengers, dazzling flight crew, has today been jailed for 10 weeks.
Tane Hemopo, 39, admitted two charges of endangering a New Zealand Post metro flight and a Virgin Airlines flight on April 5.
Hemopo, of the Christchurch suburb of Hornby, pleaded guilty earlier to two charges laid under the Civil Aviation Act of causing unnecessary danger at Christchurch District Court.
At around 12.30am on April 5 this year, Hemopo was near the Sign of the Kiwi on the Port Hills when he pointed the laser at the tail of a New Zealand Post Metroliner that was coming in to land at Christchurch International Airport.
A few minutes later, he pointed the laser into the cockpit of an international Virgin Airlines flight, which was at 20,000 feet (6000m) for about 20 seconds, "dazzling" the crew.
Then as the plane, which was carrying 121 passengers and crew, came in to land, Hemopo repeatedly pointed the laser into the cockpit, again distracting the crew. The summary, however, says the laser had little effect on the flight crew.
He also pointed the laser at the airport control tower.
When apprehended by police, still near the Sign of the Kiwi, admitted pointing the laser at the aircraft, but said he didn't realise it was dangerous.
Defence counsel Serena Bailey said Hemopo had written a letter of apology to control tower staff, and his partner wrote a letter to the court today.
Judge Tom Gilbert told Hemopo that his actions put the flights at "unnecessary risk".
But he accepted that his actions were "motivated by stupidity rather than [by] any malice".
Hemopo was originally scheduled to be sentenced several months ago but he failed to show up at court.
He was remanded in custody on October 17 until today.
Judge Gilbert said his prior convictions ran to several pages but included "nothing at all like this in your past".
As a serving prisoner, the only realistic sentence was one of imprisonment, the court heard.
The judge sentenced Hemopo to 10 weeks' imprisonment as a deterrent to others.
Judge Gilbert said it was up to Corrections to calculate his release date. He also ordered the destruction of the laser.
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) welcomed today's sentence, saying it was only luck that the laser didn't cause serious harm.
NZALPA president Tim Robinson said past incidents have resulted in pilots suffering confusion, temporary blindness, and headaches.
"We're pleased that this has been recognised now by the judiciary as a serious offence," he said.
"It's a serious risk to flight safety and we think the sentence is appropriate."