Lasers Pointed at Planes in Record Numbers in 2010, Says FAA

2,800 cases reported to FAA in 2010; safety issue for pilots.

Jan. 19, 2011— -- Over 2,800 cases of lasers being pointed at airplane cockpits were reported in 2010, nearly double the number reported in 2009, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Los Angeles International Airport had the most incidents in the country with 102 reports, and Chicago's O'Hare was a close second with 98. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and San Jose International Airport both had 80.

"This is a serious safety issue," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. "Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations."

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

Pilots have reported blurred vision and damaged retinas after laser beams were aimed at them in flight.

The FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to gather complaints, and the number of reports has been rising steadily since then: 1,527 incidents were reported in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.

"The Federal Aviation Administration takes laser incidents very seriously because of the potential safety hazards they pose," Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, said in a statement to ABC's New York affiliate WABC-TV in December.

The FAA has acknowledged that this is a growing problem. A few years ago there were just 300 cases of people shining hand-held lasers into the sky, but now cheap versions are easily found for sale on the Internet.

High-powered green lasers are also being purchased that have greater potential to hit an aircraft at higher altitudes than in the past.

Breaking Federal Law

"Interfering with a flight crew is a federal crime, so the FBI has looked into these laser incidents over the last several years. ... We've located some and they've been prosecuted," said FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko.

If convicted, the maximum sentence an offender could face is 20 years for each charge and a $250,000 fine, the Providence Journal reported.

Lasers Pointed at Airplanes in Record Numbers

"These are very serious crimes and really prosecutors are going to have to make that point by putting people in prison any time this occurs," said John Nance, ABC News' aviation analyst.

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