It is only a "matter of time" until lasers cause a serious plane crash with the number of incidents up 130 per cent in the last five years, an expert says.

An incident at a $20 million Wellington control tower involving lasers during the first day of operation added to the 228 incidents reported last year, prompting NZ pilots to renew calls to ban the devices.

The concern comes as Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker's bill on high-power lasers is before Parliament. It proposes to increase fines for reckless laser use.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) president Tim Robinson said a serious crash was imminent as statistics showed a climbing trend of interference.


"There is potential for significant accidents and crashes if they continue to be used, especially in airports.

"They [pilots] describe the confusion, temporary blindness and the resulting headaches as one of the most terrifying thing they've ever gone through," he said.

A police spokeswoman said implications of laser strike incidents were a major concern, both on the ground and in the air.

"They could lead to the potential loss of aircraft or people's lives, " a spokeswoman said.

She said anyone found to have pointed a laser at an aircraft would most likely face prosecution.

Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 717 laser incidents were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Incidents in 2018 (228) were up 33 per cent on 2017 (171) and up 130 per cent since 2014 when 99 incidents were reported.

The hot spots were in Auckland (46), Christchurch (26), Hamilton (40), and Gisborne (32).


There are two laser strikes a month at major airports. Robinson was last made aware of interference at a control tower in Wellington on its first day of operation last August.

Several staff members reported a land-based laser being shone in their eyes during the opening of Airways $20m control tower.

The Herald understands some of these staff members had to lie down after experiencing nausea.

Lasers incidents were also wasting police resources with the police database citing 311 incidents in 2018 following a search for incidents with the keyword "laser".

However, acting superintendent Belinda Dewar said the number could include several incidents that did not relate to the inappropriate use of lasers.

The national manager of response and operations said police could not verify those which included lasers saying the information would take substantial collation of information.

Braam van Straaten was targeted by a laser beam while preparing to kick a penalty during the All Blacks vs Springbox test in 2000. Straaten missed the kick, and the Box lost the match. Photo / TV3
Braam van Straaten was targeted by a laser beam while preparing to kick a penalty during the All Blacks vs Springbox test in 2000. Straaten missed the kick, and the Box lost the match. Photo / TV3

In 2018 police laid six charges relating to lasers, up from two in 2017, and three in 2016 with the offence being "endangering transport".

Of those charges seven of 11 were in Auckland.

Between 2014 and 2018 there were 17 occurrences where charges were laid relating to the keyword "laser".

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker's High-power Laser Pointer Offences and Penalties Bill proposed to double the maximum fine to $4000 and double the term of imprisonment from three to six months.

But Robinson said that didn't go far enough. He believed Parliament needed to place the dangerous use of lasers in the same category as highjacking or bomb threats.

"Air traffic controllers have been very concerned that it would only be a matter of time before a serious accident would result from such dangerous and irresponsible use," he said.

In the UK, reckless use of lasers can be published with up to 5 years' imprisonment. Singapore requires users of lasers over 5 mini watts to be licenced.

Robinson said the association would be putting all the material before the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford as part of its push for a tougher line on lasers.