After a number of months talking to Ministers, Government officials, Members of Parliament across the House and wide media coverage of our concerns, NZALPA was delighted that Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker's High Power Laser Pointers Offences and Penalties Bill has been drawn from the ballot and will soon enter Parliament for its first reading.
Members Bills are those put forward by MPs who are not Ministers, and we understand the Bill was drafted with the assistance of the Opposition Police Spokesperson MP Chris Bishop.
Hamish Walker hoped the Bill would lead to tougher penalties for laser strikes on aircraft, more in line with sentences to those found guilty of assault.
As Stuff.co.nz reported, the bill proposes to double the term of imprisonment for the offence from three months to six months, and double the maximum fine from $2000 to $4000 for possession of high-power laser pointers. Other amendments included allowing higher penalties under the Health Act 1956 for breaches around the supply of laser pointers.
Walker told media that penalties similar to serious assault were “fitting given pilots have described these incidents as one of the most terrifying things they ever experienced.”
Earlier this year, NZALPA called for the prohibition of high-power laser pointers following the latest reported incidences of flight crew and passenger lives being put in danger through reckless use of these devices.
NZALPA President Tim Robinson said that specialists estimate aircraft approaching and departing New Zealand airports continue to experience laser attacks, on average, every month.
Robinson said this was an issue other countries have dealt with through complete prohibition on the possession of these devices.
“What makes it worse is that it is likely the perpetrators will never be found. This is a constant source of frustration for ourselves and law enforcement agencies,”
Ultimately NZALPA would like to see their status as an offence equivalent to such acts as high jacking and bomb threats, collectively known as ‘Acts of illegal interference’.
As the current legislation stands, perpetrators can be prosecuted under the Summary Offences Act 1981 (possession of high-power laser pointers), Crimes Act 1961 (endangering transport) and the Civil Aviation Act 1990. Under the Summary Offences Act sentences can include up to three months in prison or a fine of up to $2000.
Under the most punitive of the three acts, the Crimes Act, a perpetrator could face up to 14 years in jail.
It’s not just aircraft that are being targeted. On the opening night of Wellington Airport’s new control tower recently, a high-powered laser strike targeted the control tower. The strike is currently under police investigation but it is believed to have originated from a group of men in a nearby carpark.
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May 2011: Green laser repeatedly hit the Police Eagle helicopter in Auckland. Two people were arrested.
May 2012: A helicopter was targeted with a green laser while approaching Waikato Hospital.
Feb 2013: Two crew and a medical officer suffered vision impairment in a New Plymouth laser attack.
April 2013: Laser was pointed at a military helicopter operating at Whenuapai, Auckland.
Dec 2013: Eagle helicopter hit again with a green laser.
July 2014: A laser strike into a flight deck blinded both pilots of an Airbus approaching Auckland.
Feb 2015: Green and red laser allegedly pointed at Christchurch air traffic control tower for 5-8 minutes.
Sep 2016: Lasers pointed at several international flights near Auckland Airport.
Apr 2018: Air New Zealand plane hit by a laser just after taking off from Kerikeri Airport in Northland.