As It Happens

Pilot recalls laser attack, wants some handheld pointers banned

Ian Smith is calling on the federal government to put handheld lasers on its list of prohibited weapons because pilots are increasingly being targeted by laser attacks.
The view from the cockpit during a laser pointer attack (Transport Canada)

High power laser pointers should be placed on the list of prohibited weapons because they serve no real purpose other than to attack airplanes according to Ian Smith, President of the Air Canada Pilots Association.

I heard him say to me 'you have control … I've just been exposed to a laser, I'm having trouble seeing out of my right eye.'- Ian Smith

"Let's be clear, these are not the small little ones that you would use in a classroom. These are the ones that are higher powered, and purchased from overseas," says Smith.

By putting the lasers on the prohibited weapons list, it would allow police and border agencies to seize the devices that are increasingly being used to target crew while in Canadian airspace.

A laser pointer like this can shoot a beam over 8 kilometres in the air. (FAA)

"They're not only putting in danger the flight crew, they're also putting at risk the passengers on that flight," says  Smith.

Flight crews have reported 590 so-called laser attacks to Transport Canada last year, an uptick of more than 17 per cent from 2014, federal data shows. It's a more than three-fold increase since 2009, in which Ottawa's Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System registered roughly 120 such reports.

The latest incident of a laser attack was on a Virgin Atlantic flight out of the UK over the weekend. The plane chose to turn around rather than continue on the transatlantic journey after the crew member said they felt sick.

Smith, a veteran pilot has experienced a laser attack himself, after a crew member's vision was temporarily affected on a flight to Toronto.

Ian Smith is a vetern pilot and President of the Air Canada Pilots Association (Air Canada Pilots Association)

"As we were in the descent for the runway, the first officer was flying at the time, then I heard him say to me 'you have control … I've just been exposed to a laser, I'm having trouble seeing out of my right eye.'"

Smith took control of the aircraft and completed the landing without further incident. His co-pilot's eyes were not permanently affected.

"This has been an almost daily occurrence," Smith says.  "We've seen it happening more and more. Just [on Monday] there were two more laser attacks."

Take a listen to our full interview with Ian Smith. 

With files from CBC News.