Within the past week both Detroit and New York airports have reported people intentionally directing laser pointers at airplanes in the sky. This act is a federal offense. These devices are cheap but are capable of pointing a small and visible light beam hundreds of feet away. The are said they can possibly impair a pilot’s eyesight which is dangerous and is a federal criminal offense.

Intentionally aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a five year federal felony. The term “laser pointer” means any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.

United States Sentencing Guidelines call for at least a four month prison sentence. If the act is seen as recklessly endangering the aircraft, the recommended prison sentence goes up to about three years. These guidelines are advisory and are subject to argument and additional factual determinations. The penalty can be much more severe as well.

Someone with a laser pointer can also be charged with Attempting to Interfere with the Safe Operation of an Aircraft which is a 20 year felony.

In 2012, Sergio Rodriguez was with his kids and girlfriend and was fooling around with a laser pointer in the courtyard of their apartment complex. Sergio was “trying to see how far it would go” and aimed it at a helicopter that was flying at an altitude of 1,100 feet. The pilot of that aircraft said that the light was “brighter than the high beams of a car light by far,” and more like staring at the sun. He further stated that it was like a “high-intensity flashlight up to your face and turning it on.” Rodriguez was originally sentenced to 14 years in prison. After appeal, it was reduced to 5.

That is still a stiff penalty for playing with a laser pointer.