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Is it Illegal to Shine a Laser Pointer into the Sky?


It is certainly rather tempting to point the laser at the sky when you have a laser pointer in your hand. What harm could a small beam of laser do? Doesn’t it just shine for a second and disappear? As it turns out, shining the laser in the sky can do plenty of harm, which is why it has been made illegal. 

Laser light can distract a pilot flying a plane thousands of miles above. If the laser pointer is of a higher power, it can even cause temporary afterimages or flash blindness, similar to the ones you get if you look into a camera flash. This can prove dangerous to the pilot steering a plane. 

Directing the laser pointer at a moving aircraft in the sky might lead to a severe accident. While you might be fine using a 5mW laser, you still can’t point it at a moving vehicle, including a flying aircraft.

Why is it illegal to shine a laser in the sky? Let’s find out.  

Can You Shine a Laser in The Sky?

how fast is a laser pointer

No, it is illegal to shine a laser beam in the sky. People have been fined and imprisoned for intentionally pointing the laser beam at the sky, particularly at a flying aircraft. A laser beam in the sky can prove to be a major distraction to the pilot of a moving aircraft. Therefore, you must not point a laser at the sky or even at another person. 

Is Shining a Laser Pointer Illegal?

Shining a laser pointer at uniformed workers, including ambulance workers, firefighters, and cops, is illegal. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 has made it a federal crime for people to shine a laser pointer at an aircraft. 

Owning or using a laser pointer in itself is not illegal. If you are using it for experiments that don’t harm anyone or for presentations, you are allowed to do so. However, if you use the laser pointer to shine at aircraft, cars, or people, you would be committing an offense. 

What Happens If You Shine a Laser Pointer at an Airplane?

a landing aircraft

Federal law in the United States has made it illegal to point a laser beam at the flight path of an aircraft or an aircraft, including a helicopter, airplane, and even a drone. You might assume the beam can’t possibly reach the aircraft from thousands of miles below, but the truth is that it actually can. 

The beam might seem to disappear from your view when you shine it at the sky, but it actually keeps going even if you can’t see it. Even a weak beam can prove to be a distraction for the pilot, which is the major reason it has been made illegal to point a laser pointer into the sky. 

Temporary Distraction and Flash Blindness

red laser travel far

The laser pointer beam can get much bigger at a longer distance. Even though the laser seems to expel a minute dot close up, this dot can be many inches across at longer distances. When a beam hits the bubble of the helicopter or the windscreen of the cockpit, the light can spread out even more. 

This spread of light can temporarily distort the vision of the pilot. Moreover, if the pilot looks directly at the light, it can create a glare that prevents them from looking at what lies behind the light. If the beam is from a high-powered laser, it can result in temporary blindness. Since the beam isn’t completely held steady, the pilot might experience more than one bright flash that can worsen vision problems. 

Aside from this, the pilot might panic about eye injuries or eye damage that would further distract him. There is also the possibility of the pilot thinking that the laser beam could be an aiming device and the aircraft might be under attack. 

This all can increase the worries of the pilot, which means they would be distracted for the remainder of the flight. That is not a good thing considering the pilot has to control the plane during the landings and emergency maneuvers. 

Numerous people have been arrested and/or fined simply because they believed the laser beam couldn’t possibly reach the aircraft. The beams from the laser pointers can also help the authorities locate the exact position of the laser pointer. They can then direct the ground police to proceed with an arrest. 

Can You Get Arrested for Shining a Laser Pointer at an Airplane?

federal law

Yes, people who use laser pointers and shine it on  aircraft get arrested. According to federal law, you can get arrested if you intentionally shine the light of the laser at a moving airplane, helicopter, or other special aircraft. You can even get arrested if you shine it at the pathway of the aircraft. 

You can get five years of imprisonment, a maximum of $250,000 fine, or both. Moreover, it is rather easy for the authorities to find and arrest the individual who  committed this offense. 

Therefore, for all the reasons above, particularly because it can cause flash blindness and glare for the pilot, you must never shine a laser pointer into the sky. Even if the laser pointer is of low power, it can still create a distraction for the pilot. 

Conclusion 

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While using a laser pointer is not illegal, pointing it at a sky, particularly at a flying aircraft, is illegal. The lasers with power higher than 5mW are certainly available in the country, but it is illegal to market them as class 3a devices. Moreover, any type of laser should not be pointed towards  the sky in  case   aircraft are flying above. 

You will end up with a fine or even jail time as the law enforcement and FAA are making efforts to eliminate the practice of laser pointers being shined into the sky.


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