FAA: Michigan laser pointers targeted aircraft in flight 810 times over last decade

By: and - September 7, 2021 8:59 am

Laser pointers, May 25, 2009 | FDA photo via Flickr Public Domain

People in Michigan pointed lasers at aircraft in flight 810 times from 2010 to 2020, breaking federal law, records show.

Michigan had the 22nd most incidents in the report of data from all 50 states, as well as and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For bordering states, Ohio had 1,186 incidents, Indiana had 1,187 and Wisconsin had 383.

Michigan peaked in 2016 with 136 incidents. The state had the lowest number of incidents in 2010 with 32. In 2020, there were 76 incidents.

However, Michigan ranked 46th in per-capita incidents. Only Maine, Wyoming, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Vermont and Wisconsin had fewer per-capita incidents.

The offense can mean a $11,000 fine per incident, and a $30,800 civil fine if you make a habit out of risking pilots’ eyesight, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a new report.

The act also can land offenders in prison for five years under a federal law passed in 2018. The FBI offers up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. The FAA is encouraging people to report offenses.

FAA report on lasers pointed at planes, 2010-2020

Incidents grew during pandemic

The number of offenses nationwide grew in 2020 even as many people were grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of flights that came with it, according to the report.

Between 2010 and 2020, the United States and its territories had 57,835 incidents of lasers pointed at planes. The agency used a new software program to track laser incidents.

“Many high-powered lasers have the ability to incapacitate pilots, thus threatening the safety of everyone on board and within the vicinity of the aircraft,” the FAA said.

California led nation in lasers pointed at planes  

California had the most incidents with 11,198. That was the nearly double second-place Texas’ 5,802. The U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Croix tied for the lowest number with one apiece.

Hawaii ranked first in the per-capita ratings, followed by the District of Columbia.

Nationally, laser-pointing incidents involving aircraft over the past decade hit a high 7,383 in 2016, then dropped to 5,663 before rising to 6,852 in 2020, FAA reported.

In raw numbers, Saturdays saw the most lasers pointed at planes. Fridays were second.

Although it didn’t address pilots or flights, the Iowa Legislation addressed assaults using lasers in its “Back the Blue Act,” Senate File 342. The law made it a serious misdemeanor to point lasers at various public safety officials. The offense is an aggravated misdemeanor if an officer, firefighter or other official is injured, and a felony if weapons are involved.

A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Read the story here.

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Perry Beerman
Perry Beerman

Iowa Capital Dispatch senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.