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UK Pilots' Union Calls For Laser Pointers To Be Classed As Offensive Weapons (theguardian.com) 275

An anonymous reader writes: The body that represents airline pilots in the UK has called for handheld laser pointers to be classed as offensive weapons, after a Virgin Atlantic flight to the U.S. was forced to return to Heathrow when its co-pilot was dazzled by a laser during takeoff. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said aircraft were being "attacked" by the devices "at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength." It said the problem was becoming "more and more urgent."
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UK Pilots' Union Calls For Laser Pointers To Be Classed As Offensive Weapons

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  • by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:25PM (#51514291) Homepage Journal

    how about instead, equip planes with a return-fire laser? one that, say, would melt granite at 3 miles? you'll stop repeat offenders dead in their tracks, so to speak. much cheaper and more effective.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Or, for actually approvable/implementable ideas: develop (if not already on the market) and install a film that filters out the most common laser frequencies.

      That said, automatic direction finding and reporting (doesn't this already exist? if not, it should) would be nice to assist local police. Maybe with a nice telephoto camera to give them a picture of the suspect.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        The reality is, if a hand held laser is of sufficient concern to pilots, than likely it should not be on the streets in a readily accessible child use format that allows children to damage the vision of other children or do any other combination of stupid things. Especially something so difficult to trace as a laser. Quite simply there is simply to high a percentage of ignorant people prone to stupid decision to allow a range of products to be readily accessible to the public, whether that ignorance be as

        • If you criminalize laser pointers, only criminals will own laser pointers.

          "Can I get this icon--" the boss paused, sweeping the bright red dot from a PowerPoint graph of Q3 profits to a pattern stamped on one of the heroin baggies piled on the conference room table "--in cornflower blue?"
          • by AC-x ( 735297 )

            Clearly what we need is more good guys with laser pointers to stop the bad guys with laser pointers :)

        • The reality is, if a knife is of sufficient concern to pilots, than likely it should not be on the streets in a readily accessible child use format that allows children to damage other children or do any other combination of stupid things. Especially something so difficult to trace as a knife. Quite simply there is simply to high a percentage of ignorant people prone to stupid decision to allow a range of products to be readily accessible to the public, whether that ignorance be as a result of age, genetics, lead or other kinds of brain function poisoning or poor upbringing. Sure create a smarter, saner more healthy society and all that junk becomes safely accessible but we have yet to do that, hence we are forced to continue to attempt to make our societies idiot proof. Who does reproduce or who does not, who is allowed the responsibility of bringing up the next generation and who is not, who is allowed to become and educator in what kind of environment and who is banned (cheat on these and you deserve to be punished by the crimes committed by failures in the system to turn a foetus into a whole and complete contributing citizen).

          Your argument seems solid. Let's ban knives.

    • Something that can barely puncture through the skin of a missile takes a whole 747 to carry. I think something more reliable would be a detection system that pinpoints the origin coordinates and automatically signals the laser's origin to someone on the ground. With current GPS and mapping systems should be possible to get sub meter accuracy. A quick response drone could also be dispatched to take pictures to document the nature of the offender, for when he's then brought to court.
    • Wouldn't it be simpler just to put a defocusing lens on the pointers that spreads the beam a bit so that the device is still usable in classrooms and lecture halls, but isn't vision damaging hundreds or thousands of meters away? After a suitable period, make possession of an old style pointer or a new one with the defocuser removed a crime unless the device has somehow been rendered unsuitable for targetting transportation vehicles.

      • There are uses for sinning lasers into the sky in focus. For example as a star sight on my telescope. Of course if I see a plane in the sky I return it of long before they get near the bean because it is already illegal to shine lasers at planes in the uk. We don't need more regulations, we need to enforce the ones we already have. Same goes for quadcopters which the same pilots union has been lobbying for more regulation too, no enforce the ones already in existence and educate people.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      And back in the real world, that happens to be impossible to do. And illegal. And impossible to target. And generally extremely stupid.

    • Or.. Why not just equip pilots with glasses that filter the main common ladder frequencies? They would only need to be worn during risk time (near the ground) and the frequency band are rather narrow so should have low impact on normal vision.
      But that would be far too simple.. Wouldn't it.

  • Let the autopilot handle Take-Offs & Landings
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by NotInHere ( 3654617 )

      Those parts I think have to be done by humans AFAIK. Or at least the pilots keep claiming it so that they don't lose their job to automation.

      • by barc0001 ( 173002 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:36PM (#51514411)

        They don't HAVE to no, but you really don't want your pilots sitting there pressing a couple of buttons and only getting actual hands on feel with the controls during emergencies. You need the pilots to actually interact with the plane regularly to keep them useful for when those things the autopilot actually cannot cope with arise.

        • by Potor ( 658520 )
          Then you add a gunner to your cockpit crew. Or maybe put him in a turret on the bottom of the fuselage.
      • by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @06:09PM (#51514687)

        IIRC, a Cat. 3 ILS will bring the aircraft down to 150 ft. After that, the touchdown itself is still up to the pilot. Additionally, there is a good deal of preliminary work for the pilot to set up an instrument approach. But the equipment is expensive and not all runways are properly equipped. Also, equipment, both on the ground and the aircraft, can break; usually at the worst time. So the pilot still needs to be able to do a manual landing in any case. And that takes practice to stay proficient.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          If the airport is equipped for autoland, many modern jets will take you right down to the ground, and I think that autoland capabilities are actually required for CAT III. As I understand it, you're still required to have a certain amount of visibility for a Cat III approach to ensure that the pilot would be capable of completing the landing in the event of an autopilot failure or whatever. That doesn't mean the pilot actually has to take over at those altitudes, just that conditions must be good enough

  • by Anonymous Coward
    but I did not complain, because guns are scary!
    Then they came for our knives, but I did not complain, because knives are scary!
    Then they came for our laser pointers, but I did not complain, because they had the only guns and knives. Now they can take anything they want with impunity.
    • by AC-x ( 735297 )

      What if you went the other way though? Should we be worried about the government ban on buying and owning bombs? When bombs are illegal only criminals have bombs..?

    • Then they came for our laser pointers, but I did not complain, because they had the only guns and knives.

      This means we still have our laser guided, air to surface missiles. If so perhaps there is a simple solution to this problem...

  • Instead... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nametaken ( 610866 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:30PM (#51514337)

    I have to imagine there are a bunch of existing laws that make this a serious offense. Just find the people that do this and come down hard on them. Then you can leave everyone else alone.

    • Here are a couple of problems with that.
      1. It is difficult to find the suspect as they could be in a few square mile area.
      2. The damage has already been done so prosecution may not help the victims.
      Many people will risk the consequences if the probability of getting caught is low enough.

      • The chance of a crime being committed depends on three factors: Punishment if caught vs. chance of being caught times gain of the crime.

        And that's the problem: Where the fuck is the gain? Why risk an insane fine if there is no gain? Yes, there are assholes who would do it for no good reason other than "I can do it and be an asshole". Just give it a fine that borders on insane and you can easily divert offenders to blinding passing cars instead.

        • The problem is that the possibility of being caught is near zero so any small thrill is enough of an incentive. The challenge of hitting an aircraft with a laser is enough of a thrill for some people and yes they are assholes. No matter how big the fine there will still be people who believe they will never get caught.

          Another issue is that you are assuming people use valid risk assessment before doing things. For many people that is a false assumption as in "Hey Bubba, hold my beer and watch this."

          • Re:Barn door (Score:5, Insightful)

            by flopsquad ( 3518045 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @07:57PM (#51515429)

            The problem is that the possibility of being caught is near zero so any small thrill is enough of an incentive. The challenge of hitting an aircraft with a laser is enough of a thrill for some people and yes they are assholes. No matter how big the fine there will still be people who believe they will never get caught.

            Another issue is that you are assuming people use valid risk assessment before doing things. For many people that is a false assumption as in "Hey Bubba, hold my beer and watch this."

            Bingo. Deterrent effect is maximized by swiftness and certainty of punishment. Severity of punishment, as an independent variable, is not an effective knob to turn up deterrence**.

            That is not only Just How Humans Work(TM), but is also borne out by plenty of studies (both short term "psych" studies, and long term sociological studies of criminal behavior). Regardless of how achievable this is in practice, the theory is pretty cut and dry: you'd be far better served by a program that upped the catch rate from 5% to 75% and gave everyone a £200 fine due in a week, than leaving the catch rate at 5% and raising the fine to £20,000.

            **FWIW, a sufficiently severe punishment can, in the aggregate, act as a deterrent. The problem is, due to proportionality and cruelty concerns, the level of punishment may be higher than we're willing to stomach in a Western democracy.

          • A lot of criminals are found-out when they can't keep their stupid mouths shut about it, and brag to their "friends". These "friends", who are usually as low-life as the perp, will tend to rat out the perp.
        • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
          a fine? in the US you can get 5 years in federal PMITA Penitentiary for pointing a laser at an aircraft.
      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        It is difficult to find the suspect as they could be in a few square mile area.

        Let's make it easier to catch them. A small camera* tied to the GPS system can capture an image of the source and calculate its source. Tie that to the ACARS [wikipedia.org] system and a ground-based app that can forward the information to the local authorities and it might be possible to get la enforcement on site within minutes.

        *Perhaps an Android/iPhone app and a mounting bracket to point the camera phone out the cockpit window. Reporting back via cellular data link.

      • The damage has already been done so prosecution may not help the victims.

        Prosecution is -- and should never be -- to benefit the victims. Prosecution exists to deter future crimes, not for vengeance. And generally, future crimes by new criminals, not future crimes by the criminals being prosecuted.

    • Just find the people that do this and come down hard on them.

      Aye, there's the rub.

      We have laws against talking on your cellphone while driving too. But the laws themselves don't stop anyone, as evidenced by the number of people who just go ahead and do it anyway. There has to be enforcement -- and that's always the hardest part, isn't it?

      Suggestions?

      • There has to be enforcement -- and that's always the hardest part, isn't it? Suggestions?

        Several people in the peanut gallery have already suggested ways to do it.

        As these specific cases are happening near major airports, a few properly-installed cameras capable of detecting the laser strike can triangulate the ray's location automatically. The military already has tech for it in the field both for sniper bullets and laser-assisted sniper sights. Hook it laser location triangulation to contact law enforcement instantly and all kinds of enforcement opportunities appear. It likely costs a six-d

  • I know this is the UK, but why isn't this a regulation like the FAA height and drone limitations near airports? We don't need to take away the devices, we need to deal appropriately with where they can, and in this case, cannot be used.

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      If you point a laser at a plane or helicopter in the US, the feds will come down on you with both feet. This [usatoday.com] guy got fourteen years for it, though the sentence was reduced to five years on appeal.
  • banned here already (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bloodhawk ( 813939 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:31PM (#51514353)
    They banned them here in Australia over a decade ago after a number of incidents of people using them against planes. One such incident was my brother, still remember that night as federal police turned up to our property to find the offender that caused a plane to do an emergency aborted landing, while they let him off with a warning my parents certainly didn't.
    • [...] while they let him off with a warning my parents certainly didn't.

      Good on your parents, mate! Wish more people had parents like yours!

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:32PM (#51514367)

    Could they apply some kind of filtration film to the inside of cockpit windscreens to block or at least mute the fairly narrow spectrum green lasers use?

    I'm only a laser expert to the extent I read the wikipedia laser pointer page, so maybe this doesn't work. I guess I wouldn't expect it to be completely effective, but maybe enough to limit the risk to pilot vision?

    • Rather than coat the entire windshield with a filter, it would be simpler, cheaper and more effective to give the pilots glasses with the filters built in.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 15, 2016 @06:14PM (#51514725)

        Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the problem of night-blindness. I've talked to pilots of police helicopters that have had green laser pointers shot into their cockpits, ruining their night vision while flying low-level in search of a suspect in areas filled with high-tension power wires (which are so good at taking out helicopters that most have large wire cutters above and below the windshield to give a chance at survival). That's straight-up attempted murder.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        Even cheaper than that would be eye patches [mentalfloss.com].

        Seriously, this problem has been solved for centuries. Why are we still discussing it?

      • Rather than give them darkened glasses simply make them like welding helmets. Put several sensors around the glasses and darken them instantly if it detects bright light. If it works for welding there isn't a reason it wouldn't work here too. At the typical ranges with cheap laser pointers the beam is pretty wide.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This won't work. First, it won't work because green lasers are right in the middle of the visual spectrum, and a bandstop filter for this would not only be really hard, it would distort vision in general. Second, it won't work because there's NOT a "fairly narrow spectrum"- you can get lasers in a wide variety of colors, and if your goal is to attack pilots with them, you'll simply find one that their glass doesn't block.

      They simply need to throw anyone who does this in prison for attempted murder of ever

      • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @08:26PM (#51515665)

        This won't work. First, it won't work because green lasers are right in the middle of the visual spectrum, and a bandstop filter for this would not only be really hard, it would distort vision in general.

        Old news. Dr. Nicholas Perricone already solved this problem. The glasses cost $400 a pair.

        I can also think of about three ways to stop the coherent light with coatings and geometry, while letting non-coherent light through (but I've been thinking about these things since 1976, since I first suggested to the U.S. Air Force that lasers would make a great aerial active denial system, and did a test implementation.

        The conversation started like this (with an Air Force bird colonel):

        Me: "What's the most vulnerable part of any military aircraft?"
        Him: "That would be the control surfaces."
        Me: "Nope. It's the pilot's eyes."

        I got a lot of visits after that.

    • This seems like a good idea. Laser light is largely monochomatic, in that if 680mm, 532mm, 470mm, were filtered with a narrow bandpass filters the likelyhood is the pilots would be safe.

      One of the greatest inventions of our lifetime, do you want to be prevented in owning it?

    • Just line the area outside the cockpit with retroreflectors [wikipedia.org]. That way anyone shining a laser at a plane and hitting the cockpit area will have the laser reflected right back at them.

      Ideally some sort of paint like used in road signs, although that stuff uses round glass beads and scatters too much light. Optical prisms like used on the retroreflectors left on the moon would work, although it's probably rather expensive. I thought I read something about reflective paint using embedded crystals which fo
  • I don't think it's practical to get rid of lasers capable of being used to harass pilots. There are too many products with lasers in them and too many applications for handheld lasers for that to work.

    Could a windshield be designed with polarization that mitigates the laser? If the problem of laser usage can't be avoided, maybe its effect can be mitigated through technology.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yet again, idiots armed with 'weapondry' they have no business having ruin it for the rest of the laser enthusiasts.

    So, no more laser sighting. No more hobbyist access to lasers of any significant power. All because some idiots don't understand how dangerous these devices can be when aimed at the cockpit of an oncoming plane.

    Fucking pisses me off that people can be so damned irresponsible.

  • by DarkFencer ( 260473 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @06:12PM (#51514713)

    These laser pointers are being used by a relatively small number of idiots/criminals, but being used by many for legitimate uses. They're fantastic for astronomy - many amateur astronomers use them to point out stars, constellations, nebulae, etc.

    They're a great tool for astronomy education and outreach and that use is far more common than the criminal ones.

    • I always wondered why stars twinkled, turns out it's astronomy instructors briefly illuminating them with lasers.

    • They're fantastic for astronomy - many amateur astronomers use them to point out stars, constellations, nebulae, etc.

      Great: Now you're potentially dazzling every pilot in an entire star system just to make it easier to teach your class.

      Just because they're aliens doesn't mean that you shouldn't be concerned about their safety. What's worse, they might decide to come here and exact revenge on our planet for your hostile actions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately, I know of a case where had I had a laser I would have shone it at a plane.

      The situation, out with a number of friends, (coincidentally, several Aerospace Engineers, and 2 pilots in training, one might have started later, but are now a pilot). Just laying down, well away from any airports, etc. Watching a meteor shower. I look away from the shower, and see a bright star, go huh, wonder what that is, then I'm distracted. I look that way a bit later, and it seems to have moved a little. Not visi

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @07:03PM (#51515041) Homepage

    Why don't we start a war on stupidity and make a law where you can legally slap the shit out of idiots that would shine a laser pointer at an airplane...

    You see someone stupid enough to do that, just walk up to them and start slapping. It's your Civic duty.

  • Around the cockpit windows. We'll shine one right back at you.

    • Around the cockpit windows. We'll shine one right back at you.

      There's part of me that thinks some moron will shine laser pointers at aircraft just to see the reflectors sparkle.

  • A dichroic reflector has the opposite behaviour to the narrow band-pass dichroic filter therefore a stack of dichroic reflectors can block the limited number of spectral bands covered by the majority of commercially available solid-state lasers. If these layers are also electro reflective they are only active when switched on (or off) therefore their use can be limited to altitudes and locations of maximum risk.

    This solution is 100% effective for common laser pointers whereas a ban will be as useless as a ban on pointy objects to stop stabbings. Sociopaths and fools will always find a way to get hold of such technology, particularly when the active part is so small and easily concealed.
    • Not to mention that laser pointers are so common they've been given away as free tokens at trade shows for years. They're built into some commercial remotes. They're sold as cat toys.

  • by Koreantoast ( 527520 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2016 @12:13AM (#51516893)
    Using lasers to blind individuals is a violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [un.org] signed by 105 countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. So I suppose from a legal philosophy perspective, calling the use of lasers to interfere with a person's vision an offensive weapon isn't that big of a stretch.
  • "...and over here, we handle the contingency where the number of members exceeds..."

    "Police! Drop the laser pointer! On your knees!"

    "I'm teaching a *class*!"

    "Sir, you're holding an offensive weapon! Drop it and get on your knees or I will shoot!"

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