National campaign launched to combat laser strikes on aircraft

WATCH:  YVR, the mounties and Transport Canada are teaming up to try to stop people who endanger lives by pointing lasers at planes. Ted Chernecki reports.

Gone are the days when lasers were used to highlight a good PowerPoint presentation. Now, the powerful lasers are becoming a real problem for pilots.

Intentionally pointing a laser beam at an aircraft in flight, which temporarily blinds the pilot and endangers peoples’ lives, is a crime in Canada. But despite that fact, the number of laser incidents keeps rising. In response to the numbers, federal transport officials were at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) today, launching a new campaign to raise awareness.

“We are launching a national campaign to help Canadians better understand why pointing a laser at aircrafts is, as we are calling the web site, — ‘Not a Bright Idea‘,” Minister of State Alice Wong said at a press conference.

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Last year in Canada there were 502 laser strike incidents; which is a 43 per cent increase in two years. In B.C. in 2014 there were 80 strikes with 52 of those strikes reported at YVR.

READ MORE: Lasers endangering flights near YVR

One Air Canada pilot described how his plane was hit by a laser last year as they were about to make a final approach to YVR. In total, they were hit three times within seconds.

“I have never seen the intensity of a light, ever so bright, and light up a cockpit or a flight deck at night as that particular laser did that night,” said Air Canada pilot Capt. Russ Ballman.

“And it was sustained for a good five to six seconds.”

Some of the lasers used in incidents cost about $300 and have a range of up to 110 miles — but there have been reported laser strikes of up to 30,000 feet in the United States.

Due to the serious threat laser strikes pose to aviation safety, policing agencies are giving it top priority.

“We give these incidents that same priority response as we do to bank robberies and other serious crimes in progress,” said Richmond RCMP Sgt. Cam Kowalski.

“That’s the seriousness that we treat it with because it is a safety concern.”

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Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal offence with fines up to $100,000 or five years in prison, but catching people is not easy. In 2014, only four people were arrested in Metro Vancouver and three entered guilty pleas and received fines.

The ‘Not a Bright Idea’ campaign hopes to educate the public on the serious dangers of laser use.

~ with files from Grace Ke

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