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We did a full blog post about this issue in 2011, and even back then we felt a little torn about whether it was worth writing. There was a legitimate travel politics story at the time, since the FAA had just announced a dedicated system for reporting people who were aiming lasers at aircraft. But it didn't really seem like there was any there there. How stupid do you have to be to aim a laser at the eyes of a pilot who's trying to land a gigantic commercial jet? How many people could we really be talking about?
It turns out that there were almost 4,000 laser strikes reported in 2013, with the average being 11 reported incidents every day. The actual number is thought to be much higher because of under-reporting. Starting in September 2012 and going forward a year, which is how the relevant Justice Department records are kept, five people were convicted in federal court for aiming lasers at airplanes. Another 15 people have cases pending against them.
The FBI is getting very grumpy.
This kind of technology probably isn’t coming to the Boeing 787 anytime soon, because after all they kind of have plenty of issues to work out with their current technology. All kidding aside, this stuff is more geared toward the military, but who knows if it could eventually land aboard commercial aircraft in the future. We’re talking about lasers—the ones that go "pew pew"—and they could be attached to military planes before too long.
It might be straight out of your favorite science fiction movie, but it looks like lasers on planes are chugging along to becoming a reality. We know virtually nothing about lasers, but we’ll fill you in with what the news knows. It’s the Navy and Air Force behind the new venture, as they’re going to test out some liquid-cooled, solid-state lasers in airplanes. They won’t be blasting bad guys back on the ground, but they will be used to intercept stuff shooting up into the air from bad guys on the ground. Think surface-to-air missiles and other not-so-friendly stuff like that.
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In 2005 there were 283 US incidents in which pilots coming in for landings had lasers aimed at their eyes. By 2010 the number had risen to 2,836 incidents per year. By October of this year we had already had 2,795 reports, which means we're easily going to clear the 2010 figure.
Another six incidents were reported at LGA just last weekend. The laser strikes were done with the relatively new and significantly more powerful green-color lasers, which are extra-dangerous. The FAA, suffice it to say, has declared itself to be unamused.
Move over Bloods and Crips, there's a new gangland feud, and this one's happening in Hong Kong, between Hong Kong and Kowloon Islands. Of course, by gangland feud, we mean healthy competition involving nighttime laser light shows. But it's a throwdown nonetheless!
In 2004, Hong Kong Island launched their "Symphony of Lights"; 21 buildings beaming lasers and lights into the sky in nightly 20-minute display. Kowloon launched their own competing show a year later, but they have a mere 12 buildings equipped with lasers, so it's not a fair competition quite yet.
The show has a theme and narration, which can be heard on the radio or by mobile phone, but unless you're in the Hayden Planetarium, narration to accompany your blinky lights is not necessary for full enjoyment. Could we see this kind of competition between Minneapolis and St. Paul in the near future?
[Image via Webel Photography/Flickr]
· Hong Kong's Light Fantastic [Times of London]