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Pilots condemn ditching of tougher UK laws for laser attacks on aircraft

Airline pilots have expressed anger after a planned crackdown on people who shine lasers at aircraft was dropped by the government.

In February the Department for Transport announced its intention to introduce legislation meaning people who did so could face tougher penalties including jail.

It is already an offence to endanger aircraft by shining lasers at pilots, and offenders can be fined. But under the bolstered plans, police would only have to prove the offence of shining the laser.

Last year 1,258 laser attacks were reported on aircraft in the UK, down from 1,439 in 2015, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, said it was infuriating to see the changes that the airline pilots’ union had hoped for be ditched.

“Not having this legislation is dangerous and puts the lives of passengers and crew at risk,” he said. “The proposed tougher laws received cross-party support so it’s baffling that they have been dropped.

“When a laser pen is pointed at an aircraft it can dazzle and distract the pilot, and has the potential to cause a crash.

“Last year’s incident figures remain dangerously high, with the equivalent of more than three laser attacks a day across the UK.”

A government spokeswoman said: “Safety is our top priority. Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and it is already a criminal offence to do so.

“Anyone found guilty could be liable to a fine, up to a maximum of £2,500.”

Laser attacks on aircraft using Heathrow rose by a quarter last year, according to the CAA. There were 151 incidents in 2016, more than any other UK airport.

The number of laser attacks at Glasgow almost doubled to 83, making it the second most targeted airport. Birmingham was third at 73, followed by Manchester (72), London City (62) and Gatwick (55).

In November 2015 a British Airways pilot was left with significant damage to his eyesight after a “military strength” laser was shone into the cockpit of his plane while he was landing at Heathrow. The pilot suffered a burned retina in his right eye.

At the time, Balpa claimed that one in two pilots had been in a plane targeted with lasers in the previous 12 months.

One high-rise building in Glasgow was now known as “laser block” to pilots and police because of the number of planes targeted from there.

In October 2015, 28-year-old Liam Chadwick, from Cardiff, was jailed for six months after shining a laser at three passenger planes and a police helicopter. He pleaded guilty to four counts of recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft.

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