Nova Scotia

Pandemic has grounded many flights, but laser strikes haven't gone away

Thousands of planes have been grounded by the pandemic, but even with far fewer flights, laser strikes remain a concern.

Despite steep penalties, there were 236 laser strikes on airplanes reported in Canada in 2020

The number of flights in Canada has fallen during the pandemic, but laser strikes on planes haven't gone away. (CBC)

Thousands of planes have been grounded by the pandemic, but even with far fewer flights, laser strikes remain a concern.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates the aviation industry in the U.S., recorded 6,852 such strikes in 2020. That's an increase of 716 over the year before.

In Canada, there were 236 strikes reported to Transport Canada in 2020. That's down from 590 such attacks reported in 2015.

A laser strike can disorient, even incapacitate, a pilot as the devices flood the cockpit in bright light.

Penalties steep

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal in Canada. The penalty for intentionally interfering with an aircraft by using a laser can be up to $100,000 in fines and five years in prison.

Since 2018, Canada has had what Transport Canada describes as a comprehensive strategy.

New regulations were introduced last June to ban the use of powerful hand-held lasers near 530 airports and heliports across Canada. They're also banned in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

But the practice continues. 

Daily incident reports compiled by Transport Canada frequently include laser strikes.

Flight school hit 3 times

A report from earlier this month shows a small, single-engine plane operated by the Moncton Flight College was targeted by a green laser as it flew over the Richibucto area of New Brunswick at an altitude of 1,200 metres. Police were notified.

The college appears to be a popular target.

In a second incident, a plane from the school was conducting touch-and-go circuits over Moncton's Romeo Leblanc airport last January when it was struck by a laser.

According to the report, the laser appeared to come from a black truck parked along a fence on the airport property. RCMP were notified.

A third incident involving the school happened as a plane was on final approach to Moncton airport.

According to the report, the pilot was struck in the eyes by a green laser, experiencing slight eye pain and disorientation. The symptoms passed after 30 seconds.

CBC News reached out to the Moncton Flight College for comment on laser strikes. The company declined and referred questions to Transport Canada.

While it has been targeted a relatively high number of times in the past few months, the Moncton Flight College is by no means unique.

Earlier this year, a Saskatchewan Air Ambulance was struck by a green laser as it approached Meadow Lake, Sask. The laser reportedly bathed the interior of the cabin in light but did not strike the pilot.

A report last month from Edmonton showed a single-engine Cessna aircraft being struck by a green laser while giving a tour over the city.

Not just small planes

The laser appeared to be coming from a high rise south of the North Saskatchewan River, which cuts through the middle of the city. Again, police were notified.

Most of these incidents involve small aircraft which generally fly at lower altitudes. However, pilots of some larger passenger aircraft report they've also been targeted as they approach an airport for landing.

Catching people who commit this crime can be difficult, but not impossible.

Transport Canada has shared a video from York region in Ontario. Three people on the ground targeted the aircraft. They probably didn't realize they were aiming at a police helicopter which was in radio contact with officers on the ground.


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