'Only a matter of time': Pilots call for laser ban as crash feared

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Monday, 21 January 2019, 9:08AM
NZ pilots are calling for an outright ban on possessing laser pointers as new statistics show a climbing trend of incidents. Photo / Getty Images

Experts are calling for an outright ban on handheld lasers over concerns of a serious plane crash with the number of incidents up 30 per cent in the last five years.

An incident at a $20 million Wellington control tower involving lasers during the first day of operation added to the 228 incidents reported last year, prompting NZ pilots to renew calls to ban the devices.

The concern comes as Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker's bill on high-power lasers is before Parliament. It proposes to increase fines for reckless laser use.

President of the NZ Airline Pilots Association, Tim Robinson, told Mike Hosking a fine isn't enough of a deterrent.

"We are actually calling a prohibition of these handheld lasers given the effects that they can have on pilots and air traffic controllers."

"We are asking for a prohibition primarily because the risk outweighs markedly, any utility they are having in society."

"We don't believe they need to be in the country there is plenty of other alternatives os we are calling for a complete prohibition."

Robinson said the lasers are still in circulation even though there are laws in place to restrict the supply to authorised people only which is why a ban is needed.

"They still seem to be coming into the country, they still seem to be readily available and they still seem to be getting into offenders' hands and we have seen that with the number of incidents continuing to increase."

"One of the difficulties is catching them [the offenders]. They tend to be young folk. Whether they believe they are using these as a toy or whether it's a bit of a party game or whether they think it's fun, we aren't 100 per cent sure but these incidents continue to occur."

Robinson said a serious crash was imminent as statistics showed a climbing trend of interference.

"There is potential for significant accidents and crashes if they continue to be used, especially in airports.

"They [pilots] describe the confusion, temporary blindness and the resulting headaches as one of the most terrifying thing they've ever gone through," he said.

A police spokeswoman said implications of laser strike incidents were a major concern, both on the ground and in the air.

"They could lead to the potential loss of aircraft or people's lives, " a spokeswoman said.

She said anyone found to have pointed a laser at an aircraft would most likely face prosecution.

Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 717 laser incidents were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Incidents in 2018 (228) were up 33 per cent on 2017 (171) and up 130 per cent since 2014 when 99 incidents were reported.

The hot spots were in Auckland (46), Christchurch (26), Hamilton (40), and Gisborne (32).

There are two laser strikes a month at major airports. Robinson was last made aware of interference at a control tower in Wellington on its first day of operation last August.

Several staff members reported a land-based laser being shone in their eyes during the opening of Airways $20m control tower.

The Herald understands some of these staff members had to lie down after experiencing nausea.

Lasers incidents were also wasting police resources with the police database citing 311 incidents in 2018 following a search for incidents with the keyword "laser".

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