Monday, November 23, 2015

British Airways pilot's eyes damaged in Heathrow laser attack • 'Military strength' device shone into cockpit during landing prompts warning over growing threat

A British Airways co-pilot suffered burnt retinas after a “military-strength” laser was shone into the cockpit of his plane during a landing at Heathrow airport, an employment tribunal heard.

The incident caused the most serious injury ever inflicted upon a pilot in the UK during a laser attack, said the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa).

Jim McAuslan also warned about the “growing threat” of lasers which are becoming increasingly powerful and more readily available to the public.

Speaking about the attack on the unnamed BA co-pilot, Mr. McAuslan said: “His retina was burnt on one of his eyes.”

He added that “people have assumed the laser must have been military strength” because the damage was much more severe than that caused by common laser pens, which can be purchased online for under £5.

“When there’s something like this, that’s damaged a man’s retina, that starts to worry us,” he added.

Mr. McAuslan said the victim was a co-pilot at the time of the incident and was not operating the plane but he wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the individual case.

The man was taken to a hospital in Sheffield for treatment and has not been back to work following the attack, which took place in the spring.

Balpa has found that half of pilots experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months and figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show more laser incidents were reported at Heathrow than any other airport in the UK last year.

The west London hub had 48 attacks in the first six months of the year and some 168 incidents were recorded in 2014.

A Balpa spokeswoman said the organization is “very” concerned about the potential of lasers to startle and distract pilots at critical phases of flight.

She said: “We are also aware of concern around the ease of access to lasers, the increasing power of the technology and the potential they have to cause injury.”

Laser attacks on aircraft started some years ago when laser pointers became readily available to buy and the number of incidents has escalated.

A Civil Aviation report into lasers says the main problem is that the attacks are always “sudden, very bright, distracting, and can cause temporary visual disturbance for some time after the attack”.

High intensity laser pens are easily available online and the more powerful products which emit green beams can cost be purchased for around £400 and have ranges of up to 200 miles.

One online retailer, MegalaserUK, which sells “hundreds a year” warns “they are not toys” and says: “The light can burst balloons, melt plastic and light matches.

“Our lasers are so powerful you not only see the dot but can clearly see the entire beam stretching through the sky.”

Reckless use of lasers is a criminal offence in the UK.

BA said they were investigating the incident and a spokesperson said: “We urge our pilots to report such incidents so we can make the authorities aware.”


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