Shooting a laser pointer at a passing plane or helicopter may seem like a meaningless diversion right now, but it’s unlikely that you’ll still feel as happy-go-lucky about the whole thing when you get slapped with a fine of $11,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Until yesterday, you had to be aboard an aircraft to be liable for the FAA’s civil penalties for “interfer[ing] with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties about an aircraft being operated” – Such interferences include seeking to “assault, threaten [or] intimidate” the crewmember – but now a new legal opinion has elected to include anyone firing laser pointers, as well, following almost 3,000 complaints last year, and more than 1,100 so far this year.
Announcing the change, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said,
Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke. These lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to safely land the aircraft, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and people on the ground.
In addition to this new civil penalty, legislation is moving through the House and Senate that would make laser pointing at aircraft illegal under federal law. The message is clear: If you have a laser pointer, buy a cat to torment with it, or else find yourself in way more trouble than you would’ve expected.