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Laser Illumination of Pilots in the National Airspace System What is a Laser? L ight A mplification by the S timulated E mission of R adiation Lasers in Vision Care The excimer lasers removes tissue from the cornea’s internal layers.
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Amplification by the
The excimer lasers removes tissue
from the cornea’s internal layers.
Lasers demonstrations are used to attract and entertain the public at special events, theme parks, and casinos.
Prior to 1995, the FAA policy limited laser exposure within the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance (NOHD) in navigable airspace to less than the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) that can result in tissue damage.
<300 nm: Corneal photokeratitis.
300 - 400 nm: Photochemical UV cataract.
400 - 780 nm: Photochemical and thermal retinal injury.
780 - 1400 nm: Cataract, retinal burns.
1400 - 3000 nm: Corneal burn, IR cataract.
>3000 nm: Corneal burn.
NOTE: Optical gain of the eye is about 105. In the retinal hazard region (400 – 1400 nm), irradiance of 1 mW/cm2 entering the eye is increased to 100 W/cm2 at the retina.
Since 1976, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s), Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) has regulated the manufacturers of all laser devices sold in the U.S. under Title 21 CFR Parts 1010 & 1040. These devices include lasers used to conduct outdoor laser light shows (demonstrations).
The manufacturer must certify that a laser product’s performance meets applicable CDRH performance standards and provide labeling to indicate compliance and laser hazard classification.
In late 1995, the FAA received reports of 52 incidents of aircraft illuminations from laser lights in or near Las Vegas. Of these, 11 incidents resulted in temporary visual impairment of flight crewmembers, and 24 took place during critical phases of flight.
A Southwest Airline’s First Officer (FO) was visually incapacitated on departure from Las Vegas. The captain assumed control of the aircraft. The FO experienced eye pain and was temporarily blinded in the right eye. Inability to see lasted for 30 seconds(10/95).
At the FAA’s request, the FDA issued a moratorium ceasing all outdoor laser activities in the Las Vegas area on Dec. 11, 1995. Government and laser industry representatives met to develop appropriate guidelines.
FAA Order 7400.2 was revised to establish zones of navigable airspace around airports to protect flight crewmembers from temporary visual impairment during critical flight operations.
Available online at:http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/at_orders/media/AIR.pdf
vary with Laser Power and Distance from Source
Research was needed to validate the newly established exposure limits were adequate to ensure aviation safety for pilots in a cockpit environment.
Flight Simulator Study
Effects of Laser Illumination on Operational and Visual Performance of Pilots Conducting Terminal Operations
View of final approach to runway at 100 feet AGL
Kodak DC240, aperture f/2.8, shutter speed 1/6 s
Simulates the effect of a 5 mW green laser pointer as seen from 3,000 feet away, or a 300 mW laser from 16,000 feet away
Simulates the effect of a 5 mW green laser pointer as seen from 1,000 feet away, or a 300 mW laser from 6,700 feet away
Simulates the effect of a 5 mW green laser pointer as seen from 330 feet away, or a 300 mW laser from 2,400 feet away
Results of the simulator study indicated that the changes made to FAA Order 7400.2 were adequate to protect aviators from visual impairment in the Critical and Laser-Free Zones around airports.
SAE Aerospace Recommended Practice and Aerospace Standard Reports
As incidents associated with laser displays declined, the increased availability and popularity of handheld lasers presented an increasing threat to aviators. Between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2005, there were 90 reports of laser illumination. More importantly, 93% occurred in the last 3 months of the study period.
In recent years, more powerful handheld lasers have become affordable. Greenlasers are especially popular because they can appear up to 35 times brighter than some redlaser pointers with similar output power.
Green laser pointers are now responsible for > 86% of aircraft lazing incidents. Their light (532 nm) is near the human eyes’ peak photopic and scotopic sensitivity.
Class 3B handheld lasers
are available on the Internet. Within the NOHD, momentary exposure (≤ 0.25 s) can cause eye damage.
Wavelengths: 405, 473, 532, 635, 650 nm
Power output: 5 – 400 mW
Range: up to 20 miles
On January 12, 2005, Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, announced the publication of a new Advisory Circular, entitled “Reporting of Laser Illumination of Aircraft” (AC No: 70-02).
New FAA policy
(AC 70-02) was established to protect aircrews and passengers, improve reporting and enforcement, and to discourage future laser incidents.
Reports of illumination incidents for both the aircraft and, more importantly, the cockpit, have increased dramatically from 2004 through 2007.
Dec. 29, 2004 - A New Jersey man was charged under federal Patriot Act anti-terrorism laws (fines up to $500,000 and/or 25 years in prison) after he allegedly shone a green laser pointer at a commuter aircraft from about 4,100 feet. Charges were later reduced to lying to a federal agent.
April 2008 - A new law proposed by the Premier of New South Wales declares possession of the handheld lasers a serious crime, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, depending on the device’s power. Weaker lasers could carry a $5,000 fine or 2 years in jail, and there would be exemptions only for teachers, construction crews, and certain scientists.
by Altitude, Flight Zone and Year
Laser Free Zone
0 – 0.9
1 – 1.9
Critical Flight Zone
2 – 2.9
3 – 3.9
4 – 4.9
5 – 5.9
6 – 6.9
7 – 7.9
8 – 8.9
9 – 9.9
Aircraft Cockpit Illumination by Altitude
Note: 16.5% of illuminations of the aircraft cockpit are below 2000 feet AGL. Almost 69% of illuminations are in the CFZ.
The incident rate was highest in the AWP (0.86/100K flight operations) for the 2004-2006 period.
By region, the percentage of traffic volume is disproportionate to the rate of illuminations.
Note: The Western Pacific region’s incident rate was 3.6 times higher than that of the Southern region (0.86 and 0.24/100K flight operations, respectively) although both had similar traffic volumes (22 and 21%, respectively).
The percentage of traffic volume for a particular region is the number of flight operations in that region divided by the total number for the NAS.
Incident clusters specific to a particular airport can distort the incident rate (per 100K flight operations) for an entire region. Clusters occur at random over periods of a few days or months.
Of 746 cockpit illuminations where altitude was provided, 8.6% described one or more adverse effects (2004-2007). These include visual effects (8.2%), pain and/or possible injury (1.6%), and operational problems (3.2%).
Type of Flight
Laser Illuminations occur most frequently in November, December, and February, and least frequently in May, June, and July. About 66% of all illuminations are of commercial aircraft.
Note: Laser Illuminations occur most frequently from 6:30 – 11:30 p.m.