Regulation of lasers welcomed by aviators

IAIN SCOTT
Last updated 12:00 04/03/2014

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The aviation sector in Palmerston North has welcomed new regulations aimed at restricting access to laser pointers they say could have catastrophic consequences if pointed at aircraft.

There have been 24 cases of high-power laser pointers being aimed at aircraft in Manawatu-Whanganui since 2006, the Civil Aviation Authority says.

Nationwide, there have been 391 incidents in the same period. A record 119 laser strikes were reported in New Zealand last year.

New controls on laser pointers, under Health and Customs legislation, came into effect at the weekend, restricting access to hand-held laser devices with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt to people who have a legitimate use for them.

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said a record 119 laser strikes against aircraft in New Zealand last year highlighted the importance of the controls.

Massey school of aviation chief executive Ashok Poduval said the regulations were "really necessary to help protect professionals" from the devices.

"They are a serious concern because what generally tends to happen is that these pointers are used when the aircraft is on the final approach phase or immediately after takeoff and they are closer to the ground.

"That's the phase in which pilots require full attention, and if suddenly a light appears from somewhere it's a natural reflex to look at it."

He said there was no specific training around the issue, "but it's about sufficient awareness being created among professional pilots. That's the best you can do about it."

Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter pilot Chris Moody said it was "a serious issue and there are laws about it for a very good reason".

"A helicopter is a slower-moving target and it's probably easier for them to target it.

"They tend to be lower flying as well due to the nature of operations helicopters do."

He described pointing a laser device at an aircraft as a "mindless act", but he did not think it was always malicious. In many cases it might be a case of ignorance or people simply not thinking it through.

However, it could be disorienting, harmful to the eyes, and potentially destructive to technology used by rescue helicopters.

"Night-vision goggles are designed to amplify ambient light conditions significantly so we are able to see in the dark. A laser that goes into them, or any reflected unfiltered light that can be absorbed by the tubes will cause damage to them and, worse, damage to the operator's eyes. The consequences are dire."

Helipro's Palmerston North base manager, Ned Lee, said he supported restricting access to the devices.

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"I guess people don't realise the potential consequences when they're playing around with them," he said.

Helipro had not had first-hand experience of the issue in Palmerston North, but "if you're temporarily blinded and you're on a single-pilot operation, the consequences could be potentially catastrophic".

- Manawatu Standard

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