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Nov 21, 2013 5:20 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Laser devices pose growing risk for pilots in Tucson, nationwide

TUCSON – Hundreds of pilots from law enforcement agencies around the state gathered for the largest safety seminar in Arizona focusing on laser beam incidents.

FBI Special Agent Brian Nowak said that there were an estimated 4,000 incidents of lasers beamed into the cockpits of aircraft have occurred nationwide this year.

In Tucson, a laser is pointed at an aircraft between one and four times a week.

Tucson Police Pilot Chris Potter tracks every time the police department’s air unit has had a run in with a laser.

“Last year we have close to 50 incidents,” Potter said.

For Potter, it’s caused permanent damage. He was flying a couple years ago.

“The laser beam came through the window on my right side, penetrated my right eye … damaged my retina,” Potter said.

The problem is – many times the laser shines through the cockpit, it can create a dangerous distraction.

“It turns into hundreds of laser beams that will bounce around inside the cockpit,” Potter said.

Currently, if you get caught shining a laser at an aircraft, you could face federal felony charges. There’s also a push to toughen state law and possibly add on an assault charge because of the potential for danger.

“Lawmakers need to lawmakers need to understand the dangers of what can take place with shining a laser in an aircraft and the dangers that can take place,” said Agent Nowak. “With the public, public safety and to the aircraft and the pilots of the aircraft.”

While laser devices have not been faulted for any crashes yet, Potter said that it’s better to stay proactive.

“At the very least, this could be damaging to the crew member's eyes...and the greater tragedy could be if a crew loses control of an aircraft,” Potter said.

Phoenix currently ranks as the number one city in the nation for laser incidents. Tucson ranks high in the number of federal cases involving a laser device.

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