Growing menace: FBI cracks down on lasers aimed at pilots
SEATTLE - Staggering new numbers released by the Federal Aviation Administration showcase just how many laser pointers are directed at pilots and just how dangerous it is.
And now, with those disclosures comes a major crackdown from the FBI.
Dozens of pilots landing and taking off from Sea-Tac Airport have reported lasers directed at them in recent years.
Aviation experts say what people don't realize is that a simple laser pointer directed toward a pilot jeopardizes the safety of thousands of people every day in the air and on the ground.
People can buy lasers for as little as $50. They shine it up at a plane or helicopter, which has special glass that diffuses light. Pilots say it's like a flashbulb going off right in their eyes. That laser can light up a cockpit and temporarily blind a pilot.
The FAA says safety is compromised more than 10 times every day in the United States with people pointing lasers at planes.
Pilots reported 3,400 laser strikes in 2012, but new numbers from the FAA now show that number jumped to 3,900 last year - an all-time high.
So now the FBI is announcing a new $10,000 reward to anyone reporting someone who lasered a plane.
The federal law enforcement agency is also launching an educational campaign - part of which specifically targets teenagers - so they know that pointing a laser at a plane is a felony that can land you in prison for five years. Congress also increased the penalty to a maximum $250,000 fine, and the FAA can also add a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each infraction.
This is a problem nationwide and the campaign will run across the country, but the FAA is also paying closer attention to cities where they've recorded the most laser incidents, including Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Albuquerque, San Antonio and San Juan, Puerto Rico.