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A call has been made for hand-held lasers to be treated as “offensive weapons” as the true extent of attacks on UK pilots was revealed.
A survey of 810 pilots commissioned by the British Airline Pilots Association found that 55% of respondents had suffered a laser attack in the past 12 months and 4% had experienced six or more.
Official figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show reports of lasers being shone at aircraft in the UK have risen from 746 in 2009 to 1,442 in 2014 — equivalent to about four laser incidents each day.
The Balpa survey reveals that the true number may be even higher, as a significant number of pilots do not report attacks, the Sunday Times reported.
Balpa, which has 8,699 members, said that the CAA was notified of fewer than two-thirds of incidents.
A British Airways pilot reportedly sustained a burnt retina last year and has been unable to fly after a laser was shone into his eyes as his aircraft prepared to land at Heathrow.
Balpa general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said that if the devices were powerful enough to hit an aircraft, they should be banned.
“Shining a laser into a cockpit can temporarily blind the pilots, often for some time, putting the aircraft and its passengers at needless risk,” he said.
“We believe all but the lowest-powered lasers should be strongly regulated, and treated as offensive weapons.”
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted since shining a light at an aircraft became an offence in 2010.
Liam Chadwick, 28, was jailed for six months in October after he reportedly pointed a £1 laser pen from his top-floor flat in Cardiff at aircraft taking off from Bristol.
The pilots of a Ryanair jet and Thomson charter aircraft had to alter their flight paths over the Bristol Channel to avoid the beams.
The Balpa survey also raised concerns over pilots’ tiredness. Nearly four in 10 (39%) said their abilities had been compromised by tiredness at least once a month. This included 14% who said their abilities had been affected by fatigue about once a week.
Only 51% believed a decision not to fly because they were too tired would be supported by their airline chief executive.
There were also problems highlighted with pilot training. Only 49% of pilots said that their airline gave them enough time in flight simulators to improve their manual handling skills, and only 51% said they were confident that pilots were adequately trained to recover aircraft manually from a high-altitude emergency.
UK pilots generally spend two four-hour sessions in the flight simulator every six months, but much of the time is spent training for emergencies that may occur during take-off or landing or practising flying in low visibility.
The CAA said: “Pilots undergo continuous training and development, especially in relation to the manual recovery from unusual situations.”