Feds plan crackdown on laser-pointing at airplanes

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The FAA say Mineta-San Jose International Airport is one of the top ten airports across the country dealing with laser hits and they want everyone to know it's a serious problem. It worries both federal regulators and passengers. "Yeah, I think it's a serious issue. They don't respect putting the people that are on the plane in danger," passenger Marian Howard told ABC7 News.

The justice department and the Federal Aviation Administration are fed up with people who may not be terrorists, but whose actions can temporarily blind a pilot. "There are tough penalties and we would do all that we could to make sure that people understand that there are serious consequences to shining a laser at a pilot," U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood said.

The aggressive crackdown comes as the number of laser pointing incidents is on the rise. Last year, pilots nationwide reported nearly 3,600 hits, more than double the number just two years earlier. "I wasn't really aware that there were that many of them. I infrequently hear about them, but I didn't realize it was that chronic of a problem," passenger Alan Isaac said.

The FAA reports San Jose had 53 laser incidents last year while Oakland and SFO reported 31 each. Airport administrators say there are a couple of reasons San Jose flights are a frequent target. "Flight patterns, you know, over a long stretch of residential neighborhoods and just the fact that we are a very high-tech gadget-friendly culture," airport spokesperson Vicki Day explained. The people responsible are most often caught when they point the laser at a law enforcement aircraft. There was both an incident and arrest in 2009 involving Star One, the Contra Costa sheriff's helicopter.

Frequent flyers say anyone caught should be prosecuted. "I think they crack down in any way they need to to reduce the hazard," passenger Gregg Mckee said.

People caught face not only jail time, but also criminal and civil fines. Federal regulators say they will be going after the maximum fines possible, even if there was no malicious intent behind the laser pointing.

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