The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has developed a self-assessment tool for flight crew, to determine the likelihood of pilots having sustained eye damage following a laser attack on their aircraft. Over recent years, the deliberate targeting of aeroplanes and helicopters in flight with lasers by individuals on the ground has become a major global problem for the aviation industry.
The CAA’s Medical Department has now produced a self-assessment tool designed to aid pilots in determining whether they have incurred a significant eye injury or whether they should seek precautionary help from an eye specialist such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist in the event of being dazzled by a laser.
The Aviation Laser Exposure Self-Assessment (ALESA) tool is being made freely available online as a downloadable file that pilots can print off and use straight away from www.caa.co.uk/medical. Hard copy cards will also be available from the CAA. The core of the test is a 10cm² grid that, when viewed from 30cm away can be used to detect whether a pilot’s vision has been affected by the laser beam.
Dr Ewan Hutchison from the CAA’s Medical Department, said: “Unfortunately, increasing numbers of pilots are experiencing laser attacks. Pilots obviously need very good eye sight to do their job and are naturally concerned that their livelihoods could be threatened if they are dazzled by a laser. We hope this new self-assessment tool will, in most cases, allay fears but also enable pilots to determine whether they should seek medical attention.”
Laser attacks on aircraft - usually passenger jets on final approach to an airport or helicopters in the hover - have been increasing rapidly since 2008. Reasons are believed to include the reduction in the cost of devices and their increasing availability via the internet. Their technical specifications are also improving. While other sections of the transport infrastructure are also being affected, aviation appears to be a favoured target with large numbers of incidents occurring annually across Europe and the United States.
In 2010 the UK Government introduced a new law that made the shining of a laser at an aircraft in flight a specific criminal offence. Offenders can also still be charged with the more serious offence of ‘recklessly endangering an aircraft’ for which there is a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The British Airline Pilot’s Association (BALPA) have recently also published advice to pilots on what to do following a laser attackwww.balpa.org.uk
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