The FBI announced a new program Tuesday offering $10,000 for information on anyone that points a laser at an aircraft.
“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law,” FBI Criminal Investigative Division Assistant Director Ron Hosko said on the agency’s website Tuesday. “It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions.”
“Lasing” is already a federal crime that carries a five-year prison sentence, but the agency hopes its new program will deter the practice even more with both the monetary incentive for witnesses and an educational component designed to teach the public about the dangers.
“Laser pointers are legal and certainly have legitimate uses,” federal Air Marshal George Johnson said. “Used in the wrong environment, however, they can be very dangerous.”
Pilots have likened lasers being pointed at their cockpits to a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night, leaving them temporarily blinded and disoriented. Most of the devices are handheld and can be purchased in a store or online cheaply, and many are able to shoot a concentrated beam of light up to a mile high.
The FBI, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, began tracking lasing incidents in 2005, and have since seen a 1,000 percent increase in frequency. In 2013, there were 3,960 incidents alone, making the average about 11 per day. Thousands likely go unreported.
According to the FAA, pilots required medical attention in at least 35 of those total instances to date.
In January a 23-year old California man was sentenced to almost two years in prison for pointing a laser at a police helicopter.
The agency released a video Tuesday to go along with the launch of its new campaign simulating the effect lasing has on an aircraft.