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Illegal laser incidents with aircraft up 41% nationally, total number of reports hold steady in Idaho

A simulated image with cockpit instruments below and a blinding green light obscuring the view of a runway. Image shows the simulated impact of a laser pointed at an aircraft upon landing.
Federal Aviation Administration
A simulated image from an FAA presentation showing what an illegal laser illumination looks like to a pilot in an aircraft cockpit.

Laser pointer attacks on pilots rose 41% across the U.S. last year, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration. An all-time high of 13,304 "unauthorized laser illumination events" were reported in 2023. Incidents in Idaho were up slightly, but did not reach previous highs.

Data show 59 reported laser incidents for Idaho in 2023. All but two of those came near the Boise airport - about half between the months of August and November.

Directing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in jail. The FAA can also levy financial penalties of up to $11,000 per incident.

But even if laser attacks are reported, very few suspects are actually found. The FAA says it initiated just 51 investigations into laser incidents nationwide over the last two years. The agency would not say how many resulted in an arrest or prosecution, nor whether any were opened in Idaho.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney in Idaho also declined to confirm or deny if prosecutions were underway or if any had been completed.

The agency reported total civil fines in the U.S. of $120,000 in 2021. More recent data was not available.

Laser incidents with aircraft in Idaho were minimal until a nearly 400% increase between 2013 and 2015. The number of reported incidents has risen steadily since, peaking at 64 reports in 2021. The vast majority happen around Boise.

Laser pointers can temporarily blind pilots, but may also cause retinal damage. Nationwide, 313 pilots have reported injury due to laser attacks. Only one happened in Idaho: an incident in Boise in February of 2019.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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