Aviation chiefs warn laser pen craze risks lives as cases treble

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CASES of laser pens being fired at planes coming in to land at Edinburgh Airport have almost tripled as the dangerous craze continues.

Aviation bosses have warned that there has been a “phenomenal growth” in reports of planes and helicopters being targeted as they come into land, potentially putting lives at risk.

At Edinburgh Airport 37 cases have been reported this year. In 2010 there were 52 reports of laser pens – up from 16 in 2009. In 2007 there were no cases.

The pens can disorientate or temporarily blind pilots for up to ten seconds as they come in to land.

Across the city, there have been nearly 600 incidents over the past four years, including shining the lights in people’s faces and at cars.

Police in Edinburgh have investigated at least nine incidents in the past month, including one where a laser was aimed at an easyJet plane. On September 5, an Airbus A319 from Stansted reported a green beam being shone at the cockpit at about 10.45pm. Investigating officers said the light originated from the Duddingston Loch area.

Just four days earlier, another pilot reported seeing a laser pen in the Cramond area. At the end of April, similar incidents were reported in Silverknowes and Livingston.

The majority of pilots were targeted minutes before landing, while they rapidly descended at 2000 or 3000 feet.

All major airlines including Ryanair, British Airways, Flybe and Jet 2 have been affected.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, which is in charge of air traffic control at Edinburgh Airport, said: “The growing number of attacks on aircraft at airports like Edinburgh are part of a global phenomenon.

“Dazzling a pilot with a laser during critical phases of flight, such as take off and landing creates a very real safety risk. Shining lasers at aircraft is now a specific criminal offence. If you are caught you will be prosecuted. We urge members of the public who witness a laser being used near an airport to contact the police.”

A police spokesman said they treated all incidents “extremely seriously”.

“Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aeroplane or into the eyes of a motorist is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. Anyone responsible for such actions will be reported to the procurator fiscal.”

In September last year, a Romanian berry-picker who targeted a fighter jet pilot with a laser pen was jailed for four months. Strawberry fields supervisor Radu Moldovan, 28, shone the beam at the Tornado as it swooped in to land at RAF Leuchars in Fife. He kept the beam focused on the cockpit for up to ten seconds.

vraimes@edinburghnews.com