A British Airways pilot has had his eye sight significantly damaged after a military-strength laser was shot into the cockpit of the plane he was landing at Heathrow Airport, in what appears to be the most serious laser attack to date in the UK.
The pilot’s retina was badly burned in his right eye and has not worked since, according to the head of the Balpa (British Airline Pilots’ Association). The incident has provoked concerns over the problem of laser attacks with Balpa claiming that one in two pilots has been in a plane targeted with lasers in the last 12 months.
The unnamed pilot was sat in the co-pilot’s seat as the plane landed at the London airport in the spring, and was treated for eye injuries in Sheffield.
British Airways is investigating the claims saying:
The safety of our crew and our customers is always our main concern. We urge our pilots to report such incidents so we can make the authorities aware.
Balpa’s general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said the incident shows the dangers that lasers pose to pilots, which have become easy to buy over the internet. He claims that one block of flats in Glasgow is known as “laser block” amongst pilots and police because of the high number of planes targeted by lasers from the flats, while landing at the city’s airport.
Less severe incidents are being blamed on teens but McAuslan said the “kids’ ones” aren’t powerful enough to cause physical harm, but that more powerful lasers have now become available on the black market.
We are also aware of concern around the ease of access to lasers, the increasing power of the technology and the potential they have to cause injury.
According the Civil Aviation Authority the number of reports of laser incidents in the UK has remained relatively constant at about four to five a day on average over the last four years.
But McAuslan said that in a poll conducted for Balpa, half of all the pilots in his union reported being attacked in the last 12 months, and warned that even weak lasers can have dangerous consequences if pilots were distracted by the beams while landing.
It’s a critical point in flight, you have to have complete concentration. When it comes into the flight deck, it bounces around the walls of the cockpit.
There have been more than 400 incidents of laser attacks reported in the UK in the first six months of this year, according to the CAA. The highest number of incidents happen around Heathrow although in proportion to air traffic, regional airports including Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle and East Midlands have more attacks.