A University of Moncton physicist is hoping a new ultra-thin film, that can be applied to the windshield of commercial airplanes, may keep the skies safer by blocking laser beams that are being aimed at cockpits.

According to the FBI, incidents of people aiming their lasers into airplane cockpits has risen by more than 1,000 per cent since 2005.

Pandurang Ashrit, a physicist and the director of the Thin Films and Photonics Research Group at the University of Moncton, specializes in working with super-thin materials.

He said this latest project could keep airline pilots and their passengers safer in the future.

"Problems that we have with people just shining lasers at the cockpit, it's just for fun,” Ashrit said.

Pandurang Ashrit

Pandurang Ashrit, a physicist at the University of Moncton, is developing an ultra-thin film that could protect pilots from laser beams being pointed into cockpits. (CBC)

“But it can be very dangerous because it actually blinds the pilots, momentarily."

The film would coat the windshield of the cockpit and it would protect the eyes of the pilots from lasers.

The challenge is to create a film that blocks out the wavelengths of light that a laser would use, while keeping the windshield clear.

"This is a thin film that blocks the green laser,” Ashrit said, holding his product.

“There is a slight colour to it because the green light needs to be reflected, but at the same time you can see that it is clear to the eyes. So that the pilots or whoever is using it can see through it."

Thin film

The thin film being developed by Ashrit's research group is still in early stages of commercial development (CBC)

The thin film is still in the early stages of research and development.

Ashrit's research group is collaborating with a private company, Lamda Guard Inc., based in Dartmouth, N.S., to market the product, and then plans are to test the thin film on an actual airliner. Lamda Guard says it holds several patents on the product. It is also working with Airbus, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the University of New Brunswick on the project.

The problem of people pointing lasers at airplanes is a growing concern.

The problem has become so serious, in the past few years, that the FBI launched a campaign in the spring against laser attacks on airplanes and offered $10,000 rewards.

Dan Adamus, a pilot, said he has heard the stories about what can happen if a laser gets pointed into a cockpit.

Dan Adamus

Dan Adamus, a pilot, said there were 461 laser beam attacks on aircraft in Canada last year. He said they happened at critical moments for pilots during landing and taking off. (CBC)

“All of a sudden this laser's in your eye and it's certainly the startle effect," he said.

"And if it's a really strong laser flash, blindness could take effect and even temporary blindness and possible eye damage as well."

According to Adamus, there were 461 laser beam attacks on aircraft in Canada last year. The beams were being flashed into cockpits at the critical moments when pilots were trying to take off or land.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story did not mention patents held by Lamda Guard on this specific project or the other corporate, government and university collaborators on the initiative.
    Jul 31, 2014 2:45 PM AT