For the next three months, the FBI is offering rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who points a laser device at aircraft in flight. The rewards program will be augmented with a communications campaign warning of the dangers of “lasering” via billboards, radio, and social media.
Lasering is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
How widespread is the problem? According to a Reuters report, the FBI documented 3,960 laser attacks last year, an average of almost 11 strikes per day. And the real number is certainly much higher. In other words, it’s happening a lot.
Although the motivations of those lasering planes may be more akin to those of pranksters than of terrorists, the potential to cause an incident resulting in the catastrophic loss of life raises the stakes of the practice to a life-and-death issue.
To date, there have been no reported crashes from lasering. But there will be fatalities if the practice continues. Pilots who have been lasered compare the experience to having a flashbulb going off in front of their faces. And the timing couldn’t be worse: Lasering typically occurs during take-offs and landings, a particularly dangerous time for a pilots to find himself visually impaired, even for a few seconds.
It’s not often that I find myself wholeheartedly supporting the FBI. But in this case, their cause is my cause, and should be yours as well.
If you become aware of someone lasering planes, contact your local FBI office and report it. The life you save could be your won, or that of someone you love.
Reader Reality Check
I find the idea that a $50 handheld laser could bring down a plane full of passengers troubling. Do you?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.