FAA: Holiday Laser Lights a Danger to Pilots

The federal agency says those setting up residential displays may not realize how far up the beams can reach.

Laser attack on British Airways pilot
Steve Parsons—PA Wire/PA Images

Pilots being distracted or temporarily blinded by residential laser-light displays in recent years has become an unfortunate part of the holiday season.

"People may not realize that systems they set up to spread holiday cheer can also pose a potential hazard to pilots flying overhead," the Federal Aviation Administration said in an appeal for precautionary steps posted on its website.

Among the more serious of such incidents, a British Airways pilot reportedly had retina damage from a laser that shone into his cockpit as the plane was landing at London's Heathrow Airport two years ago.

Lasers, regardless of the source, should not be aimed at aircraft in a way that threatens the safety of a flight by distracting or blinding its pilots, according to the FAA, the recipient of pilot complaints about the laser-light systems "each holiday season for the past several years."

The federal agency advises those installing holiday laser-light systems to make sure the lights are hitting their house and not shining up into the sky. "It may not look like the lights go much farther than your house, but the extremely concentrated beams of laser lights actually reach much further than most people think," the agency said.

Once aware of a laser-light display affecting pilots, the FAA asks the owner to adjust or turn them off. If a display continues to be a problem for pilots, a repeat offender could face an FAA civil penalty, the aviation agency said.