Laser Strikes In Commerical Aviation


A laser strike can cause visual interference and impact on task performance during critical phases of flight such as takeoff and landing. Laser illumination in a cockpit induces an involuntary reaction that diverts the crews’ attention away from their primary tasks. This startle effect may cause distraction, disruption, disorientation or in the worst case temporary operational incapacitation due to flash blindness. The impact level depends on the characteristics and circumstances of the laser illumination.

When a laser beam hits an aircraft windshield, tiny scratches and dirt on the windshield create a glare effect which spreads the light across the pilot’s field of vision. Pilots do not see this light as a small beam or dot; they experience a large glow which can be difficult to see through. A laser beam becomes wider over long distances and may grow to a few inches or even a few feet in diameter. The laser glare can cause considerable distraction or temporary flash blindness to a pilot during a critical phase of flight, such as landing or takeoff. Most laser glares occur during the approach phase of a plane’s descent.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), UK Civil Aviation Authority and Transport Canada Civil Aviation laser strikes on commercial aircraft have risen over the last 10 years and handheld laser pointers are increasing in power and decreasing in price. Handheld lasers have become 45 times more powerful during this same time over 90 percent of these incidents reported are green lasers, which the human eye is the most sensitive to. Below are three images from a FAA simulator that shows the light distraction to a pilot.

Distance: 3700 Feet


The light is brighter than background lights. 

Distance: 1200 Feet


It is difficult to see past the light if it remains aimed towards the eye. 

Distance: 350 Feet 


Flash blindness

The light is so bright that it causes after-images that last even after the light is no longer aimed towards the eye.




Laser illumination of the
cockpit increases the risk
of incidents and accidents
during critical periods
of flight.


Laser illumination of
an aircraft may cause
disruptions to normal
operations, and might have
a spill off effect on other
routes potentially causing
delays and effecting on
time performance.


One of the most important senses for the flight crew is their vision and laser illuminations can both cause temporary and
permanent damage to
their vision.


Laser illumination can
cause temporary flash
blindness and lead the
flight crew to turn around
or make a go-around.
Missed slots and
passenger reimbursement
due to delays can be
costly side effects of a
laser illumination.



In the most extreme
cases pilots can be forced
to turn around the aircraft if struck by laser after e.g.take off, leading to wasted airframe and engine hours. Fuel dumping may also be an unwanted necessity if the aircraft is forced to make a security landing.