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Wed, Mar 05, 2008

Pilots Say Laser Strikes On The Rise Over Toronto

At Least Five Recent Incidents Reported

Canadian officials say they're not turning a blind eye to the disturbing increase in the number of laser beams being flashed on aircraft operating around Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

The Toronto Star reports at least five pilots have complained recently to Transport Canada, saying someone on the ground shone a laser beam into the cockpits of their planes as they approached to land at the airport. Agency spokesperson Deborah Baxter said there have been 11 incidents reported in Ontario since March 2007, but adds many more likely went unreported.

Flights that came under attack recently include a cargo aircraft and charter plane on February 21, and an Air Canada Jazz regional jet January 7. Police were sent out to investigate each report, but so far nothing has come of it. A teenager was apprehended in connection with the attacks, but wasn't charged.

High-energy light emitting from laser pointers can cause temporary flash blindness, and may lead to permanent vision damage.

Pilots say they can't fathom why someone would deliberately attempt to blind a pilot during the crucial landing phase, especially over a busy city like Toronto.

"The threat (from a laser pointer) is probably greatest when that airplane is a quarter to a half-mile from the threshold of the runway -- when you're in the final 10 to 12 seconds prior to touchdown," said Capt. Stephen Guetta, a 20-year Air Canada pilot. "That's the highest risk, when you're moving from your instruments to looking outside. Trying to get your depth of perception. So you can imagine the danger of blinding a pilot at that point ... The pilot has very little time to react."

Officials appear to suspect the attacks are the result of miscreants, and not any kind of deliberate, organized terror campaign. Steve Lott, spokesman for the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association, suggests the lasers being shone at airplanes are more powerful than the typical laser pointer used in corporate presentations.

More likely, he adds, the perpetrators are using high-powered lasers typically used by astronomers... and, well, snipers.

"The most crucial parts of any flight are the takeoff and landing," Lott said. "This is certainly not a game, whether it's kids playing a game or anything else."

FMI: www.tc.gc.ca/en/menu.htm

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