New state law ups penalties for pointing lasers at aircraft

From the Legislative Gazette:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law Tuesday that now makes it illegal to aim laser pointers at airplanes.

The legislation (A.8236-c/S.7418-a) makes violators guilty of a misdemeanor.However if the laser causes an aircraft to significantly alter its course or severely disrupt the order of the flight, violators could be charged with a felony.

Federal law already prohibits pointing lasers at aircraft, but a number of states have passed their own legislation to make it easier to prosecute offenders.

“This is an important piece of legislation that can give local prosecutors the authority to prosecute a very serious crime,” said Assemblyman Steven Otis, the sponsor of the bill.

Otis, D-Rye, introduced the bill to the Assembly last fall and it passed the chamber in mid-June. It passed in the Senate three days later, sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr., D-Queens.

Otis said the frequency of this kind of incident has risen dramatically over the last decade.

“A few months ago the FBI established a reward program to encourage people to turn violators in. This is just another indicator that this is a growing problem,” Otis said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, reports of lasers being pointed at airplanes nearly doubled in 2010 to more than 2,800 from 2009. And in December 2011, the FAA received more than 3,500 laser incident reports for the 2011 calendar year. This is the highest number of laser events recorded since the FAA began tracking these incidents in 2005.

Otis noted that a lot of these incidents were at airports in New York state.