GOVERNMENT TAKES AN “ASSESSMENT” APPROACH TO THE THREAT FROM HIGH-POWER LASERS
Despite increasing concern about the number of laser strikes at aircraft and calling for a full prohibition on their use, the Minister of Transport has decided to gather more information on the how the current customs prohibition order on their import is performing rather than any stronger action at this stage.
NZALPA President Tim Robinson says he is very disappointed at the lack of urgency and direction on the matter.
The Minister refers also to a “challenge to enable the legitimate use of developing technologies, such as lasers and unmanned aircraft,
while prioritising aviation safety and effective enforcement action against the misuse of such technologies.”
“Apart from very specific scientific study, it’s hard to comprehend why high-power handheld lasers are necessary at all,” Robinson said.
“Every time they are used against an aircraft there is the real and present danger of a tragedy and loss of life.
“I would think that this fact alone outweighs the usefulness of this so-called ‘developing technology’ and puts it into a completely different category from unmanned aircraft that do have legitimate uses when safety is prioritised.”
In his reply to NZALPA’s concerns, and after a number of attacks on aircrafts in New Zealand’s skies this year, the Minister reiterated the fact that the law already addresses the misuse of lasers, including provisions under section 44 (Dangerous activity involving aircraft) of the Civil Aviation Act 1990 and section 270 (Endangering Transport) of the Crimes Act 1961.
Currently it is an offence under the Summary Offences Act 1981, with a $2,000 fine or a three-month jail term, to possess a high power laser pointer in a public place without reasonable excuse.
NZALPA had suggested to the Minister that consideration be given to classifying high-power laser pointers as an offensive weapon, and that their use in New Zealand be subject to permit under the section 3 (Prohibited offensive weapons imports) of the Customs Import Prohibition Order 2017.
The Minister replied that the relevant Schedule to that Order solely references dedicated weapons so he did not believe section 3 is appropriate to address the importation of multiple-use technologies like laser pointers.
The Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 restrict the sale and supply of high-power laser pointers to those who are authorised suppliers and restricts the acquisition of such devices to those who are authorised recipients. Meanwhile, the Custom Import Prohibition (Highpower Laser Pointers) Order 2017 already restricts the importation of high-power laser pointers to those people who have obtained authorisation to import them from the Director-General of Health.
Therefore, the Minister replied, “The near-term priority is to ascertain how effectively this most recent Order is performing in terms of reducing the misuse of high-power laser devices, before more regulation or increased penalties could be considered.”
Although the organisation found this approach frustrating, Robinson said that NZALPA would be looking forward to the Ministers’ assessment of the 2017 Orders’ performance and pressing for a reasonable timeframe for this to occur.
“In the meantime, we’ll be praying for the safety of our members and the travelling public that those laser devices already being used within our borders against our aircraft do not succeed in their disastrous mission.”
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