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After all the media coverage about people pointing lasers at commercial aircraft, I started to wonder what was so special about lasers.

It seems to me that the amount of distraction that could be done with a 5mW laser is significantly less than what could be done with something else.

For example, if I bought/borrowed the light beam from the Luxor hotel, put it in my backyard, turned it on, and pointed it at the planes flying out of a major airport, I would expect that pilots might have some more issues with a 4.3 Billion candela beam than with a 5mW laser (right?)

However, I can't find any laws against it, so would this be legal?

Alternatively, what if I just wanted to swing that beam around in the sky, and it accidentally crossed the path of a plane? Are there different laws regarding unintentionally hitting a plane with something like this?

  • Can you provide citations for the laws that prohibit shining lasers at aircraft? – feetwet Oct 11 '15 at 17:58
  • @feetwet: See 18 USC § 39A. For this question, I would look for general laws about creating hazards to aviation. – Nate Eldredge Oct 11 '15 at 18:29
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If I were a federal prosecutor (which I'm emphatically not), I might try to charge you under 18 USC § 32 (a) (5):

a) Whoever willfully— [...] (5) interferes with or disables, with intent to endanger the safety of any person or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, anyone engaged in the authorized operation of such aircraft or any air navigation facility aiding in the navigation of any such aircraft; [...] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

Since you clearly know, or believe, that this has the potential to interfere with piloting, which would obviously be a serious danger to people on board the aircraft, I'd argue you would be acting with "reckless disregard for the safety of human life."

If your conduct results in anybody's death, then life imprisonment and/or the death penalty are also on the table, under 18 USC § 34.

  • Are there any procedures or protocols that could be followed to minimize liability in this scenario? I know that there are a significant number of searchlights/light shows/laser shows which do shine lights into the sky. I would imagine that there is a threshold of precautions (notifying the FAA) which could be used as evidence that it is not, in fact, "reckless". – Stack Tracer Oct 12 '15 at 14:23

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