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Is it a crime to aim a laser pointer at an airplane?

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2023 | Federal Offenses

While they’re useful for visual demonstrations and special effects, laser pointers can be harmful. Even commercially available laser pointer models with low milliwatt outputs are enough to cause permanent retinal damage if aimed at people’s eyes.

Laser pointers can also be harmful in another way – when they’re used to harass and distract aircraft pilots. Even if a laser light doesn’t visually appear to be reaching an airplane, the beam is powerful enough to travel up into the atmosphere and hit a plane’s cockpit, potentially blinding the pilot and endangering the lives of the passengers under their care.

It’s a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. There are severe penalties for those convicted of this “harmless” prank.

The offense of aiming a laser pointer

Per the U.S. Code, anyone who knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at a plane within the aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S. violates the law. The law also prohibits aiming a laser pointer along an aircraft’s flight path, even if no immediate planes are passing through.

On conviction, the offender will face up to five years of prison time and $250,000 in fines.

A legal defense

Aiming a laser pointer at any aircraft flying over America’s jurisdiction is a federal crime. However, the critical point to remember is that someone is only guilty of breaking the law if they intentionally aimed their laser pointer. Those who accidentally caused a laser pointer to disorient a pilot could argue that they were aiming at something else.

You might want to seek legal counsel if you face a similar charge. A legal professional can help you plan your defense and protect your rights in court.