Laser strikes on planes are growing even as the federal government enacts tougher penalties for people caught shining the devices.

From Wednesday night through Thursday morning, federal authorities fielded reports of 20 laser strikes on aircraft, adding to an already record-breaking number of strikes this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 5,352 laser strikes through Oct. 16, up from 2,837 for all of 2010. Such strikes can temporarily blind pilots at critical times when they are taking off and landing. People convicted of pointing a laser at a plane can be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pilots and airports reported three laser strikes in the New York City area to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Jet crews landing at Dallas Love Field reported another three. Other airports reporting strikes included Jamestown, N.Y.; Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Palm Springs and Ontario, Calif.; Covington and Danville, Ky.; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque; Detroit; St. Petersburg, Fla., Springfield, Ill., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“None of the pilots reported injuries,” Lynn Lunsford, an FAA spokeswoman, said. “Nevertheless, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime that the U.S. vigorously pursues.”

Some airports have reported more than 100 laser strikes this year: Los Angeles had 197; Phoenix had 183; Houston had 151; Las Vegas had 132, and Dallas-Fort Worth had 115.

On July 15, during a 90-minute period, 11 airliners and one military aircraft reported laser strikes near New York City-area airports. Those incidents remain under investigation by the FAA, FBI and New Jersey state police.

In 2011, the FAA began imposing civil penalties on people who pointed lasers at planes. Then, the maximum fine was $11,000. Congress upped the penalties in 2012 and made it a federal crime to point lasers at an aircraft. From February 2012 through 2013, the FAA investigated 152 cases and took action in 96.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Food and Drug Administration in June to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range lasers, which are relatively inexpensive and easy to buy. His recommendation came after five flights were targeted heading to New York’s JFK Airport.


The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 50,000 pilots, has worked with the FAA and FBI on educational campaigns to discourage people from pointing lasers at planes, including the phrase “Don’t let a prank lead to prison.”

“We will need to do more to fully engage in a solution that combines education, reporting, enforcement and technology to protect North American air transportation,” association President Tim Canoll said.