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FAA sees rise in lasers pointed at planes, many cases in Charlotte



CHARLOTTE, NC Local Charlotte News – The FAA says almost 7,000 pilots have reported laser incidents so far this year, some of them In Charlotte. New numbers from the agency place Charlotte as one of the most reported cities for laser incidents. A small beam of light may not seem like a large danger but retired 757 captain Kit Darby says lasers can end a pilot’s career.

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“The long-term effects — can permanently damage vision. A pilot’s livelihood is dependent on his medical, and a key part of that medical is having good vision.”

Precision and accuracy are needed to fly aircraft, with a heightened sense of awareness to deal with issues inside and outside the flight deck. Laser incidents can distract pilots from catching larger issues, says Certified Flight Instructor Jacob Tuck.

“Whether it’s the airplane, weather, or other pilots — you really have to be situationally aware of your surroundings. You have to fit into that, and if you fixate on what’s going on inside the cockpit [you can miss] things going on outside. You can put yourself in a serious problem quickly.”

Tuck says even beginner students need to be educated on the dangers and procedures for dealing with laser incidents in flight.

“Teaching that kind of thing, so that when it does happen it doesn’t startle them to the point it puts them in another situation. It’s something you have to introduce to them or expect that something like that could happen while flying.”

Michael O’Harra, Southern Region Administrator with the FAA says in most cases the incidents happen during phases of flight that are high-stress.

“The scary part is this can happen at the most critical phase of flight. These aircraft are typically at lower altitude either departing or arriving at the airport.”

Darby says the industry relies on pilots to use their best situational awareness and reporting systems to avoid as many laser incidents as possible, with the end goal always maintaining the integrity of the aircraft and passengers.

“There can be momentary blindness from the laser initially, and if you’re down low enough for it to be a factor then you could be flying the plane by hand and you certainly need to see to do that.”

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