A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests the FAA should expand its efforts to address the growing problem of laser strikes on aircraft. Illuminating an aircraft with a laser device could distract or even injure a pilot and it is considered a federal crime, as well as an in-flight emergency. Prosecution is difficult but there have been some successes with fines up to $27,338 and prison sentences of up to 51 months.
According to the FAA, there were thousands of laser incidents reported by flight crewmembers between 2010 and 2021, with a peak of 9,723 last year. The FAA requests that the crewmembers involved complete a voluntary questionnaire, but the rate of response can be as low as 12 percent annually. While the agency said it investigates each situation, the GAO has found some discrepancies in the FAA’s quarterly reports to Congress.
Additionally, the FAA and law enforcement previously participated in an interagency working group on the subject, but it was disbanded in 2015. FAA officials have stated that they do not routinely request data on laser strikes from other agencies, a situation that hinders its accurate reporting to Congress, according to the GAO.
The GAO recommends that the FAA improve its efforts to gather and share laser strike data with law enforcement and reinstate the working group.