Adrian PingstoneA Virgin Atlantic aircraft was forced to abandon its flight from London to New York after it was “hit by a laser strike.”
Not long into the flight, a pilot on the aircraft—which had set off from the capital’s Heathrow airport—made a distress call confirming that the 15 crew, and 252 passengers on board flight VS025 needed to return to London as a precaution.
He calmly explained the situation to Irish air traffic control: “We have a medical issue with one of the pilots after a laser incident after take off. We’re going to return to Heathrow,” he said, according to an audio recording of the drama.
Metropolitan Police aviation officers, who described the incident as a “laser strike”, slammed the use of lasers being shone into the cockpits of aircraft. “When you point a laser at an aircraft you are risking the lives of hundreds of people. #think about your actions!,” Scotland Yard tweeted, following the incident.
Virgin Atlantic—which is working with the Met to try to find the source of the laser—said in a statement that the “safety of our crew and customers is our top priority,” and it apologised for any inconvenience caused.
According to the British Airline Pilots Association, laser incidents have been extremely difficult to police. “To date only a handful of perpetrators of a laser incident have been prosecuted and convicted of this crime.
Despite continuing law enforcement efforts to deter and apprehend miscreants there were 1,440 reported laser strikes on aircraft in the UK and over 3,800 in the US in 2014 alone,” it said.
A laser strike could affect pilots in a number of ways, including flash blindness, the BAPA added.
The group said:
Given the many incidents of cockpit illuminations by lasers, the potential for an accident definitely exists but the fact that there have been no laser-related accidents to date (October 2015) indicates that the hazard associated with current lasers can be successfully managed.
As the power increases so does the concern surrounding potential outcomes.
Technologies are available to mitigate the effects of lasers, but are still immature, do not provide full-spectrum protection and are unlikely to be installed on airline flight decks in the foreseeable future.
Wrongdoers who shine lasers at aircraft could face a summary offence under two Air Navigation Order articles.
The second of which—ANO article 137—could lead to a prison term.
It states: “A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft.”
Last month, in the US, a man was sentenced to six months in prison and three years of supervised release after he aimed a laser at a police helicopter.
In October last year, a Californian “knucklehead” was sentenced to five years in prison for pointing a laser at an emergency transport helicopter.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK