A WestJet pilot flying from Newfoundland to Orlando International Airport had his eyes burned by a green laser light, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration officials said Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an email that the WestJet Airlines aircraft was about 40 kilometres from the airport when the laser light hit the pilot. The flight landed safely a short time later, and the pilot was placed on medical leave, which is routine in such cases.
The airline said in a statement that the incident took place Saturday but gave few details, citing privacy concerns.
“Any pilot who reports being struck by a laser is required for safety and health reasons to have an ophthalmology evaluation,” spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in an email.
Bell said laser incidents pose a “serious concern” for crew and aircraft safety and are immediately reported to local authorities for investigation.
“Pilots are extremely focused during all phases of flight, but especially during take-off and landing, when most laser incidents occur,” she said.
“When any sort of light enters the flight deck, pilots are trained to look away and maintain focus but they must also remain vigilant with respect to their surroundings and monitor the apron prior to landing.”
The FAA is investigating the incident. The agency said it had notified the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which sent a deputy to a central Florida address pinpointed as a possible source of the light.
The sheriff’s office said no one at the location had any knowledge of the incident and said they don’t have a laser pointer.
Offenders could go to prison
Last year, the Canadian government announced strict new measures to ban most high-powered lasers around airports and in the country’s three largest cities due to the dangers they pose when aimed at aircraft.
The interim measures bar anyone from possessing a battery-operated hand-held laser over one milliwatts outside a private residence without a legitimate purpose, such as for work or education.
The rules apply to municipalities in the greater Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver areas, as well as within 10 kilometres of any Canadian airport or heliport.
Penalties for those convicted of deliberately targeting aircraft include fines of up to $100,000, five years in prison, or both, though the government has acknowledged that prosecutions are rare given the difficulty of catching people in the act.
However, the new rules also allow investigators to hand out fines of up to $5,000 for anyone caught with a hand-held laser in a prohibited zone without a reason. Corporations can face up to $25,000.
Transport Canada reported 379 incidents of lasers pointed at planes in 2017, most of which occurred in Ontario and Quebec.