Commercial aircraft in Canada are targeted by people with lasers hundreds of times every year, and Transport Canada wants to get the message across this is #notabrightidea.

The #notabrightidea social media campaign is just one way the federal agency is trying to curb this behaviour.

On Sunday night someone shone a laser into the cockpit of a plane preparing to land at Charlottetown Airport.

Aaron McCrorie, director general for civil aviation at Transport Canada, said these incidents are far too common.

"It's a serious problem in Canada," said McCrorie.

"We're quite concerned about it. What we've seen over the last about five years, starting about 2012 to last year, is a steady increase in the number of incidents involving lasers."

Temporary blinding

There were 333 reported incidents in 2012. That rose to 590 in 2015, and dropped off to 527 in 2016, but McCrorie said it is too early to say if the trend is turning around.

Lasers can temporarily blind a pilot. The attacks are most common during critical takeoff and landing phases.

"It's incredibly dangerous at that moment in time and poses a risk to everybody on that aircraft," said McCrorie.

There have been no accidents in Canada due to laser attacks.

"We do know know that there has been damage done to pilots, to their eyes, for example," he said. Not permanent blinding fortunately yet, but people whose eyesight has been damaged because of the lasers."

Transport Canada said it doesn't believe there has been any permanent damage due to lasers.

"While Transport Canada is aware of incidents that caused temporary damage to pilots' eyes, the department is not aware of any cases where a pilot suffered permanent eye damage as the result of a laser strike," it said in a statement.

Transport Canada is looking into new enforcement options, including involving Transport Canada officials in investigations. Its social media campaign encourages people to report incidents.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offence, punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in prison.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated there been some cases of permanent eye damage for pilots. In fact, Transport Canada is not aware of any cases in which lasers have caused permanent eye damage.
    Jul 27, 2017 1:18 PM AT
With files from Maggie Brown