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Response to Laser Attacks
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This article is based on the results of a dedicated survey carried out by EUROCONTROL in 2019. The purpose of the survey was to identify the current practices of laser attack notification procedures in use by European ANSPs.
Naturally, most laser-related events happen in the vicinity of the aerodromes. However, there are cases of aircraft being targeted in the en-route phase. For example, one big European ANSP advised that about 5 % of the reported events ocurred during the cruise phase of the flight (which equals 10 to 40 occurrences per year). Another big European ANSP also states that ACC controllers submit laser event reports.
Laser attacks are often considered as being in the same "threat class" as RPAS activities. Despite seeming different, they both share some common features - relatively new technology, wide availability, emerging (but not yet mature) regulation and the potential to cause harm from a distance (either unintentionally or deliberately). Some ANSPs consider drones a greater threat to aviation safety than lasers.
The general procedure followed by air traffic controllers that have received a report about laser attack includes passing of the received informaiton to:
- The supervisor.
- The police. This is usually done by the controllers using direct phone lines or with the help of the supervisor. In some cases the police is notifed by the airport authority. In some countries (or parts thereof) there are specific agreements, e.g. dedicated police duty officers that are available 24/7 or a police station that can have a helicopter airborne in a matter of minutes. In most European countries informing the police is a legal requirement, while in others this is based on an agreement between the ANSP and local police offices. In some countries the police officers may question the pilots after landing in order to obtain information that could help arrest the attackers.
- The concerned airport authority.
- The regulator. There is a legal requirement to do this pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/1018. The regulator is to be notifed within a specified deadline (e.g. within 72 hours of the occurence) and the focus is more on safety information gathering and monitoring rather than perpetrator identification.
- The crews of the flights that are about to pass through the same area. In some cases the ATCO of the upstream ATC sector is informed, too, in order to pass the warning to the flight crews even earlier. The procedure applied in some ATS units requires inclusion of the laser attack warning in the ATIS for a defined period of time. If the problem persists, a NOTAM may be issued.
European law differs significantly as laser attacks on aircraft are a relatively new phenomenon. In some European countries (e.g. Germany, Norway, France) using lasers against aircraft is a criminal offence and people have been arrested and brought to court. Other contries are in the process of amending their legislation to criminalise laser attacks on aircraft in flight. In some contries, however, data on laser attacks is collected for statistical purposes only and no investigation is done.
Some European regulators have defined areas where certain laser activities are forbidden and/or require prior permission. The use of lasers in such areas would be a direct violation of the civil aviation act.
Some ANSPs have reported a reduction of the number of laser attack in the recent years, due to e.g. legal action being taken.
Accidents and Incidents
- B738, vicinity Porto Portugal, 2015 (On 5 September 2015, a Boeing 737-800 was about to commence descent on a non-precision final approach at Porto in VMC when a green laser was directed at the aircraft. The Pilot Flying responded rapidly by shielding his eyes and was unaffected but the other pilot looked up, sustained flash blindness and "crew coordination was compromised". Subsequently, the approach became unstable and a go around to an uneventful approach to the reciprocal runway direction was completed. The subsequent Investigation noted the use of increasingly powerful green lasers in this way and that such use was not contrary to Portuguese law.)
- Laser Interference in Aviation
- Pilot Incapacitation
- Misuse of Lasers - Illumination of Aircraft and ATC Towers, a Safety Warning Message