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Is It Illegal to Point a Laser Pointer in the Sky? Unveiling the Risks of Shining Lasers Upward

Is It Illegal to Point a Laser Pointer in the Sky? Unveiling the Risks of Shining Lasers Upward

What To Know

  • Pointing a laser beam at aircraft or in their flight paths is illegal under federal law in the United States, potentially leading to fines and imprisonment.
  • The beam from a laser pointer can reach and distract pilots, causing temporary vision distortion, flash blindness, and glare, even from great distances.
  • Shining a laser pointer at an aircraft is not only a serious safety risk but also easily traceable by authorities, leading to swift legal action against the perpetrator.

In this article, we’ll explore why it’s illegal to point a laser pointer in the sky, addressing the serious risks this seemingly harmless action poses.

Let’s get started!

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 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 them 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. 


While using a laser pointer is not illegal, pointing it at the 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 toward the sky in case aircraft are flying above. 

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

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Saturday 24th of June 2023

It is perfectly legal to shine a laser into the sky, as long as it is not at an aircraft or their flight path in the US.

Matthew Baker

Monday 18th of July 2022

A plane flies thousands of feet in the air (as in say 50,000 ft), but not thousands of miles as that would be outer space.