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Can a Laser Pointer Take Down a Plane?


There are many laws restricting and regulating the use of laser pointers.

When talking about laser pointers, a common question that comes to mind is, can a laser pointer take down a plane?

This guide will explore the answer to this question and provide a deeper understanding of why laser pointers and the force of their power prove harmful for planes.

But how exactly do they do this, and what extent of damage can they cause?

Can a Laser Pointer Take Down a Plane? 

Aviation experts state that laser pointers are very dangerous to planes.

Now, you may not have heard of this, but the FBI is warning law enforcement agencies to keep an eye out for laser-pointing terrorists. 

Volaris Plane

While this might sound extreme, it’s true.

Laser pointers can be used to temporarily blind pilots just as they are about to land.

A laser pointer beam can be so powerful that it can impair a pilot’s vision for long enough to incur serious trouble/damage. 

While this may sound like a far-fetched thought, it’s true.

A laser pointer can take down a plane. Let’s shed some light on why that is.

According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the light beam from a laser pointer can travel more than a mile to penetrate an aircraft from the ground. 

This experience is blinding for a pilot, which can make them lose control of the aircraft, especially when he or she is landing and requires immense concentration.

If you cannot fathom this, pilots describe the flash of a laser pointer as having the same effect as a camera flash shining in your eyes on a pitch dark night—it’s that strong. 

Which Laser Pointers are Dangerous?

You should bear in mind that not all laser pointers have the potential to bring down a plane.

Some typical laser pointers are commonly used by amateurs to point out constellations and for presentations in college.

These 5mW laser pointers aren’t strong enough to bring down planes, but they do cause some damage, as we will discuss below. 

There are some high-powered laser pointers that are extremely powerful and hence not suitable for sale to the public.

These are usually the ones emitting a green beam. These may have a power of up to 100 milliwatts. 

High power Green laser pointer

The Federal Aviation Administration says that a 5mW green laser pointer has the propensity to cause retinal burns even from a distance of 50 feet.

It can also cause flash blindness from around 350 meters away.

What Happens if You Point a Laser at an Airplane?

Since 2013, laser pointers haven’t caused any harm to aircraft, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to.

Laser pointers can cause damage when the aircraft is closest to the ground, i.e., during takeoff and landing, and both these times require a lot of concentration.

Delta Plane

Even at a distance of 2 miles, a 5mW laser pointer can interfere with a pilot’s vision.

This can then cause an aborted landing.

The aircraft may also suffer due to this, and that is what happens when you point a laser at an airplane. 

Moreover, the beam appears much larger at long distances than you’d think.

Even though you might think a laser releases a small dot, this will be felt far more by a pilot, affecting the airplane.

When the laser beam hits the windscreen, the beam will be spread far more, distracting or blinding pilots and unnerving the aircraft.  

Why is it Illegal to Point a Laser Pointer at an Airplane?

Laser pointer strikes on an aircraft are considered illegal and a serious threat to aviation safety.

In fact, this is considered an offense by law.

If you intentionally aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, you are violating federal law.

This laser beam may incapacitate pilots and pose a real threat to the aircraft, and hence, the passengers. 

The thing is, when you’re using a laser beam during a presentation or otherwise, the beam might seem very small.

However, when targeted at a distance, a laser beam is enough to imperil an aircraft as beams can be dangerous at the height of 12,000 ft.

This is because light spreads when at a certain height.

Add to that, material aircraft windshields magnify the beam, even more, making the light almost blinding to the pilot.

Airplane and TV tower

There was a whole list of incidents where laser pointers interfered with the aircraft, causing pilots to change course.

Laser pointers can temporarily blind pilots, and this can even cause a plane to fall.

Given the nature of the risk, it has strictly been declared illegal to point a laser pointer at an airplane. 

Penalties When Pointing Lasers at Planes

Dark jail cell at night

Since it is a criminal offense to point lasers at planes, there will be penalties for doing that.

Of course, the exact rules and penalties differ according to state.

For example, according to the Texas Penal Code 42.14, it is expressly stated that it is illegal to:

  1. Intentionally point the laser beam from a laser pointer or from another source towards an aircraft 
  2. The laser beam will make it hard for the operator to maintain control of the aircraft   

In a violation of the penal code above, you will be liable to pay a fine of up to $500.

This was considered a Class C misdemeanor.

However, if your actions caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft, this will be bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor.

This means that you could be liable to pay a fine of up to $4000 or serve jail time of up to 1 year.  

Final Word 

Since laser pointers can blind pilots momentarily, they can make them lose control of the aircraft.

This can cause serious accidents and even cause the plane to fall.

This is why it is considered illegal to point a laser toward an aircraft.


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