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The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

International associations call for harsher punishments for laser attacks on aircraft

DAVE REYNOLDS - NZALPA SENIOR TECHNICAL OFFICER

Although the words ‘Cyber’ and ‘Drone’ seem to dominate much of the talk around security threats to aviation at the moment, it is lasers that are continuing to pose a significant threat more than a decade since they appeared on the scene. Aircraft approaching and departing New Zealand airports continue to experience laser attacks every month.

I have just returned from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations’ (IFALPA’s) Security Committee meeting at which I met with colleagues from associations around the globe to discuss aviation security developments and to agree policies, plans and strategies to confront and tackle these related challenges. Among the common themes? Yes, you’ve guessed it – laser attacks.

It remains a serious threat for pilots globally. Many states do not appear to have an appetite to legislate against lasers or, where there is legislation, their courts don’t utilise it fully to hand down meaningful sentences to perpetrators. Some two years after the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) wrote to states urging them to enact legislation to deter attacks (State Letter 14-83), many still have not. A noticeable exception is the United States, where not only is it in place, but those found guilty of attacks can usually expect a jail sentence and/or a seriously hefty fine.  

Here in New Zealand we have such legislation including; the Summary Offences (possession of high-power laser pointers), Crimes Act 1961 (endangering transport) and Civil Aviation Act 1990.

Under the Summary Offences Act you could be imprisoned for up to three months or face a fine of up to $2,000. Under the most punitive of the three acts – the Crimes Act – a perpetrator could face up to 14 years in jail. We are yet to see anyone face such sentences.

A Christchurch man was last year handed down a 10-week custodial sentence having been charged with recklessly shining a laser at an aircraft and control tower and causing unnecessary danger to Virgin and New Zealand Post aircraft.

We continue to press at all levels for laser attacks to be taken seriously – raising their status as an offence equivalent to such acts as high jacking and bomb threats, collectively known as ‘Acts of illegal interference’. We have allies in this in the shape of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) with the latter particularly focused on attacks on air traffic facilities.

We have developed, along with our IFALPA colleagues, an IFALPA Position Paper, which gives an insight in to our collective opinion as well a short briefing on the issue. This can be viewed here.

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