An 18-year-old man has appeared in court charged with aiming a laser at the cabins of three commercial aircraft and the police Eagle helicopter in Auckland yesterday.
Pravikash Chandra is facing four charges of endangering transport, each carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. He appeared before Manukau District Court and will reappear later this month.
Counties Manukau police said the planes were making final approaches to Auckland International Airport last night. When the helicopter was sent to investigate about 10.15pm, it too was targeted.
Police allege the Eagle was still able to trace the source to an address on Great South Road in Manukau.
They said crew in all four aircraft suffered temporary flash blindness.
Detective Inspector Dave Lynch said police take the incidents "very seriously''.
"People may think the act of pointing a laser at an aircraft is a bit of a joke, however the pilots involved were all affected by the laser which has potential to endanger the aircraft, especially on a landing approach.''
The Civil Aviation Authority said there had been 100 incidents involving laser pointers in the past year, with almost 40 at Auckland airport.
The Eagle helicopter has been a particular target, probably because it is low-flying.
A spokesman for the Eagle said crew had lasers pointed at them "all the time''.
"It happens fairly often and it's a real risk to the crew.''
The laser used in last night's incident was a green laser, which are more powerful than the more common red lasers.
However, even low-powered lasers "from the $2 shop'' can pose a serious safety risk, said the Eagle spokesman.
"People think it's just a little point like you see on TV but in reality the whole cockpit illuminates.''
He said it can take up to 30 minutes for a pilot's vision to adjust to night flying, and it could take a number of minutes to regain partial vision following the flash from a laser.
"The pilot is the only one in control, if they get a full hit we could really be (in trouble).''
A direct hit from a high-powered laser could also result in permanent damage to the crew's vision, he said.
He said if people cannot be made to take the risk seriously, legislation on lasers may be needed in New Zealand.
Carrying a laser pointer in a public place was banned in New South Wales in 2008 after a spate of cases involving lasers being pointed into cars or aircraft.
There are currently no restrictions on lasers in New Zealand.
TradeMe auctions list 300mw green laser pointers for $150, claiming they are capable of setting matches on fire and melting plastic.
Lasers are readily available over the counter, and higher-powered lasers can be imported from overseas.
* In March 2011 a 17-year-old was charged with reckless diresregard for the safety of a police helicopter after he pointed a green laser at the Eagle helicopter
* Two teenagers were described as ``dangerous and reckless'' by police for aiming a laser at the Eagle helicopter during a party in Mt Albert in May 2011
* A 19-year-old was charged with endangering transport after aiming a laser pen at the police helicopter in December 2010. The charges were dropped because of the accused's ``good character'' and personal circumstances.
* Vladimir Maricic aimed a laser he bought over the internet into the cockpit of a plane near Wellington Airport in 2008. Maricic said he was trying to see how far the laser would reach. He was sentenced to 200 hours community service