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Laser-Pointing Crackdown Pledged by U.S. Aviation Regulators

U.S. regulators will start pursuing maximum fines against people caught shining laser pointers at aircraft after incidents last year climbed to record levels, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The directive today from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta comes after reported laser incidents rose to 3,592 in 2011, more than double the 1,527 cases in 2009, according to agency data. There were 2,836 incidents reported in 2010, the agency said.

Lasers pointed at a cockpit can temporarily diminish eyesight or blind pilots of incoming planes, according to FAA research. Some industrial lasers are capable of damaging the eye, according to the research.

“Shining a laser at an airplane is not a laughing matter,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the release. “It’s dangerous for both pilots and passengers, and we will not tolerate it.”

Last June, the FAA issued a legal opinion that shining a laser at an aircraft constituted interfering with a flight crew, which is punishable by civil fines that can amount to as much as $11,000.

The highest fine proposed by the agency so far was $30,800 in a case involving multiple incidents, according to the agency’s statement.

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