WestJet pilots hit in eyes with lasers while trying to land
Oct. 3, 2014, Ottawa - Two WestJet Airlines pilots sought medical treatment after a blinding laser was repeatedly fired directly into their eyes as they prepared to land a Boeing 737 airliner at Ottawa airport.
October 3, 2014 By The Ottawa Citizen
The strikes are the most serious lasing at the airport in recent years. The incident occurred late Sept. 23 as the flight inbound from Vancouver descended on an approach to runway 25.
A green laser beam came from directly ahead of and below and illuminated the flight deck, according to new details from Transport Canada.
“The captain and first officer both looked directly into the beam,” says the report. “The captain is experiencing a slight burning sensation to his left eye. First officer has no symptoms at this time. Both pilots have decided to seek medical treatment.”
The 737-600 landed without incident.
WestJet said Tuesday that the pilots reported itching and discomfort, were checked out at hospital and cleared to fly.
“Our concern is from an (occupational health and safety) perspective — everyone has a right to a safe working environment,” WestJet spokeswoman Brie Ogle said in statement. “The fact that some prankster thinks it is clever to shine a laser that could easily cause injury or serious damage to a person’s eyes is just plain foolish.
“Clearly, they don’t understand that what they’re doing is not a joke — it’s potentially quite harmful to the person exposed. Whenever we do experience a laser strike, it is fully reported in the hopes that the person involved will be caught and prosecuted.”
A similar incident in 2009 left an Ornge medical helicopter pilot with serious eye damage and grounded for several weeks after he was hit with a laser beam while flying at about 2,000 feet over the Gatineau Hills.
Canada’s two commercial airlines pilots’ associations have long called on government to enact criminal penalties for intentionally shining a laser pointer at aircraft and to consider restricting sales of all but low-power, hand-held laser pointers.
“I have a sense that there are more incidents, but also were getting the pilots reporting it now more,” Dan Adamus, president of Airline Pilots Association International’s Canada board, said Tuesday.
In June, a coalition of 14 pilot associations and airlines wrote federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt and Minister of Justice Peter MacKay requesting a new law and tougher sanctions. Raitt’s office responded Monday, saying the matter would be best dealt with through the MacKay’s office, said Adamus.
Meanwhile, a Canadian company, in partnership with aircraft manufacturer Airbus, has developed a potential solution. Lamda Guard Inc. of Halifax makes optically transparent thin films using “metamaterials,” known as nano-composites, that selectively block light from specific colours or wavelengths.
The material is applied with an adhesive to the inside of the windshield. The company says it will block the most common type of green laser pointer, responsible for 93 per cent of U.S. incidents in 2013.
Airbus has agreed to test the product, designed to be built into cockpit windscreens to deflect unwanted bright light or lasers. Lamba says the technology can block and control light coming from any angle and at high power levels.
Transport Canada, meanwhile, says Ottawa police took statements from the crew in the latest WestJet incident. But Ottawa police Tuesday said they had no record of such a call.
The new details about the WestJet incident follow the announcement in June of an aggressive nationwide U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operation to reduce the 4,000 reported aviation laser attacks in the U.S. annually.
At the very least, pilots are at risk of being distracted by what is likened to a camera flash going off in a darkened car. Worse, they can become temporarily blinded, losing their night vision and the ability to see instrumentation, runways, helipads and obstacles. The greatest risk is during descent, landing and takeoff.
Transport Canada statistics show a 24 per cent increase last year in reported laser-pointer strikes against aircraft in Canadian skies — 461 compared with 357 in 2012. The 4,000 annual U.S. incidents compares with just 300 in 2005.
The FBI offers a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone who intentionally points a laser at a plane or helicopter. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Line Pilots Association, International are partners in launching an awareness campaigns in U.S. schools.
The U.S. initiative mirrors a 60-day pilot project earlier this year at 12 major metropolitan FBI field offices where lasing was most common. That crackdown is credited with 19 per cent reduction in reported incidents.
In Canada, the Aeronautics Act prohibits directing laser pointers at aircraft. If convicted, offenders face a maximum $100,000 fine, five years in prison or both. Transport Canada has posted information about the safe and legal use of hand-held laser pointers at tc.gc.ca/lasers.
In the U.S., lasing was made a felony crime in 2012.
An Edmonton-area man was convicted in 2010 of inadvertently shining his son’s toy laser at an Edmonton police helicopter. The police pilot testified he was “bathed in a green light” that affected his ability to fly the aircraft. The man was fined $500.
In March, a 26-year-old California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for aiming a powerful laser pointer at a police helicopter and a hospital emergency transport helicopter.