UK ministers are mulling a crackdown on the sale and advertising of laser pens used for a “dangerously high” number of attempts to blind pilots at Scottish airports.
Westminster has launched a consultation on a potential new licensing regime for the gadgets, which, in the wrong hands, can do real damage but can cost less than £10.
Earlier this year it emerged that Glasgow Airport had the highest relative concentration of attacks on pilots in the UK and the second highest absolute number.
The pilots union, Balpa, said such incidents were “dangerously high” but suspected many went without being reported to the authorities.
Flashing the intense lights in to cockpits can temporarily blind pilots, even at thousands of feet above the ground.
Earlier this year the transport secretary Chris Grayling announced new powers for the police to crack down on those who use the lights. He said the practice was “incredibly dangerous and could have fatal consequences”. However, this was dropped after the general election.
Now ministers want to look at how people get hold of the lasers. Licensing schemes already exist in countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States.
It comes after two British tourists were threatened with fines for allegedly pointing laser beams at passenger planes arriving in Malaga, in the south of Spain.
Business Minister Margot James, launching an eight-week call for evidence, said: “Public safety is of the utmost importance and we must look carefully to make sure regulations are keeping up with the increased use of these devices.
“Whilst we know most users don’t intend any harm, many are not aware of the safety risks and serious health implications of shining laser pointers directly into people’s eyes.
“Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
“That’s why we want to hear from business groups, retailers and consumers about the best way to protect the public from this kind of dangerous behaviour and improve safety.”
Some 466 laser incidents were recorded between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2016, according to the British Transport Police, while the Civil Aviation Authority has also said 1,258 laser attacks were reported on aircraft in the UK last year. Eighty three of them were at Glasgow Airport.
Brian Strutton, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, said: “Startling, dazzling and distracting a pilot at a critical stage of flight has the potential to cause a crash and loss of life.
“This is especially a problem for helicopters, which operate close to the ground and are sometimes single-pilot operations.
“There is also a growing concern that, as the power of available lasers increases, the possibility of permanent damage being caused to pilots’ and passengers’ eyes increases.”
Last year superpowerful laser pens, costing more than £100 and supposedly used by astronomers to point in to the sky, were found on sale just a mile from Glasgow Airport.
Last year the pilot of a FlyBe flight landing at Glasgow was dazzled by a pen. Earlier a lecturer. Colin Lochrie, was jailed for more than a year for shining a laser pen at the pilot of Police Scotland’s helicopter the day before he crashed and died in 2013 in the unrelated Clutha pub disaster.
The pens can also be dangerous on the ground. A survey of UK ophthalmologists reported more than 150 incidents of eye injuries involving laser pointers since 2013, the vast majority of these involving children. Such gadgets are, in theory, used as pointers to help deliver presentations.