Blackpool Airport pilots call for action after laser pointers target aircraft at night

Pilots at Blackpool  Airport are appealing for action after  a spate of incidents where laser pointers targeted aircraft on night flights.

They are warning that shining light from the pen-like devices into pilots’ eyes could cause a serious accident or damage eyesight.

The latest incident happened on Friday as pilot Thomas Hornsby was flying south over Bispham just before the international firework competition display began.

He said as he approached the Gynn Square area the cockpit lit up a dazzling green.

The light was shone again, tracking the aircraft’s flight, and he could see it came from the Promenade area where crowds had gathered for the firework show and the Illuminations.

The 23-year-old, from Norbreck, said: “The whole cock-pit lit up, it was a real shock.

The laser being shined from the Prom and the glare in the cockpit. Top right: Mark Davis said lives are being put at risk.

The laser being shined from the Prom and the glare in the cockpit. Top right: Mark Davis said lives are being put at risk.

“I realised what it was and I was surprised just how bright the pointer’s light was, considering it was probably a cheap thing bought from China on the internet.

“Because of the intensity of the laser light it reflected off the whole inside of the cockpit.

“When you are flying at night you have to make sure your eyes are highly adjusted to the dark.

“We fly under visual flight rules so we have to be on the lookout for other aircraft and clouds so if you are dazzled this clearly can be very dangerous. If the laser is powerful enough it could damage your retina or even blind someone.”

Air Traffic Control and Lancashire Police were informed of the incident.

“There was an incident in Ulverston where my instructor could actually pin-point the actual house where the laser was being shone from,” he added.

“The police went round and the person was charged. It can result in a £2,500 fine.”

While he was able to turn away from the light and readjust his eyes to the dark, fellow member of the BAE Flying Club based at Hangar 2 East at Blackpool Airport, Mark Davis warned the consequences could have been fatal.

The 17-year-old, from Freckleton, said: “It can be really disorientating for the pilot. If they lose their night vision for a minute or more there could be an accident.

“If this happened near the airport when an aircraft was landing or taking off there could have been a crash.

“We want this to stop before we have to dig one of our aircraft out of the beach.

“Even the small laser pointers of about five milliwatts can cause an accident. They can leave a pilot blinded for a couple of minutes and when flying at 150mph that is dangerous.

“Things can go wrong very quickly with a small aircraft.

“Incidents like this are happening more and more frequently, three different occasions recently, and that’s just our pilots – there are many more flying clubs and school at Blackpool Airport.”

He said that the person on the Promenade had deliberately tracked the aircraft so it was not an accidental contact.

Offenders can be fined up to £2,500 or jailed if lives are put at risk. Lancashire Police said it was investigating after a laser was pointed from Gynn Square towards the pilot of a Cessna plane at around 8.30pm on Friday.

Call 101 with information.

Offenders risking prison term

From January 2009 to June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The CAA said 1,258 laser incidents at UK airports were reported to them in 2016.

It is an offence to ‘shine a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot’. If the distraction is serious, a person may be found guilty of ‘reckless endangerment’ and jailed.

In 2015, a Cardiff man was jailed for six months for targeting pilots at Bristol airport and a Merseyside man was jailed in March 2017 for eight months after shining a laser at two aircraft and a police helicopter.

The CAA has called for new laws to restrict ownership of laser pens.

A spokesman said : “Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and is a specific criminal offence.

“Anyone convicted of shining a laser at an aircraft could face a significant fine or even imprisonment should the safety of an aircraft be endangered.”