Yes, It's A Federal Crime: FBI Campaign Aims To Remind Public Not To Aim Lasers At Planes

The FBI is offering a reward for tips leading to the arrest of people aiming laser pointers at airplanes. The program was announced by several local and federal agencies at Bush Intercontinental Airport.


An FBI simulation shows the dangers of pointing a laser at aircraft.

The FBI documented 3,960 “laser strikes” on aircraft last year. Here in Houston there were 126, more than in any other U.S. city except Portland, Ore.

Special Agent Carlos Garcia with the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s a growing problem.

“In the first full year of reporting in 2005, pilots reported 283 incidents. Unfortunately, that spike turned into a steady and dramatic upturn across the country.”

What many may not know is that since 2012, aiming a laser pointer at an airplane or helicopter is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. That’s on top of Texas state law, which classifies the same offense as a misdemeanor.

A new campaign aims to raise awareness of the law and the dangers of laser pointers. Billboards with a warning are going up across the country, and here in Houston Crime Stoppers is offering $10,000 for any tips that lead to an arrest.

Special Agent Stephen Morris is in charge of the Houston FBI field office. He says the community’s help is crucial in cases like these.

“It is very difficult to try to call in, for a pilot to call the tower and then the tower to notify FAA. I mean, sometimes minutes, if not hours, have gone by and it’s very hard to pinpoint where it would have come, so it’s extremely difficult. But in the history of the FBI, we live and breathe off tips.”

Since the FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there’ve been only two arrests in Harris County. Both times it involved police helicopters taking off or landing at Hobby Airport.

Captain Sean Cassidy with the Air Line Pilots Association says a laser pointed at a pilot’s eyes jeopardizes safety.

“You would be seeing spots for the next minute or so. Well, what if you’re a minute from landing? How are you going to look and monitor all the instruments, look at your air speed, inquire the airport environment and everything else and do it safely.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson calls on parents to make sure their kids know the consequences of using laser pointers in a way that’s illegal.

“This is a crime to use them improperly, shining them at police officers, shining them in aircraft. So please make sure that they don’t have them, make sure that their friends don’t have them and that they’re not using them in an improper manner. This is the type of thing that kids do. It’s stupid but it can have deadly consequences.”

Authorities say in many cases teenagers are the culprits, but it’s also adults between 35 and 45 who may think they’re playing a harmless prank.

Bio photo of Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...