There is no simple solution to the very real danger presented by hand held high powered laser pointers (HPLPs), but New Zealand certainly needs to
These devices are a very serious threat to all aviators, to crew and passengers on the aircraft they pilot, and to people on the ground below. The United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States are not afraid to meet their potentially deadly consequences with the full strength of regulation, so why not New Zealand’s law makers?
Globally there is a growing number of reports of aircraft being targeted by lasers, and these have more than doubled in New Zealand over the last few years.
Just last month an aircraft approaching Christchurch airport reported a laser strike. Police are investigating but when Uplink went to print no-one had been apprehended for this offence. We are also watching with interest to see the outcome of a court case where a man has been charged with endangering an aircraft after a laser strike on the Otago Rescue helicopter in May.
In this issue of Uplink you will read about Police Eagle helicopters being targeted by laser-wielding criminals, in addition to a cadre of dangerous, unthinking thrill-seekers. You will also read Police Association President Chris Cahill’s call for such attacks to be considered exactly what they are - a serious health and safety threat
that Government should be doing more about.
On the parliamentary front, we have National MP Hamish Walker continuing to advance a member’s bill, the High-Power Laser Pointer Offences and Penalties Bill, which would double maximum fines and jail terms for laser pointer misuse; and the Minister of Transport reported as saying his Government has no plans to back it. Not only is this a cynical political decision, the Minister argues he’s yet to see advice that increasing penalties would deter unsafe laser use.
Meantime, the Government is unwilling to strengthen any current legislation to the level of other OECD countries, instead choosing to continue putting the safety of pilots, crew, passengers and the general public at risk.
Current approach is not working
Laser strike statistics indicate the current monitoring and enforcement approach isn’t working in New
Zealand and stronger, possibly even alternative, action is required. The Ministry of Health recently reported on year five of implementation of new controls on high powered laser pointers and its findings should prove more than
Since the new restrictions came into effect in 2014, HPLPs have been harder to get and the number of
reported laser strikes on aircraft briefly dipped. However, the number of laser strikes has since climbed at a significantly steeper rate than before the regulations were introduced.
Similarly, the number of HPLPs advertised on auction websites dropped quite dramatically after the regulations were introduced, but immediately began to climb again. The Ministry of Health report says “... many of the HPLPs listed on Trade Me during this implementation period have been well over 1 milliwatt” (the trigger point for the new regulations).
New Zealand Customs continues to intercept prohibited HPLPs – seizing them from travellers and intercepting
them in the mail.
NZALPA’s Tim Robinson told news media that if the Government won’t support Hamish Walker’s Bill, pilots need to see alternative suggestions to tackle the rising number of laser strikes.
Minister Twyford’s response, reported on Stuff, was that he understood NZALPA concerns and acknowledged the increasing number of reported incidents.
Finding and stopping offenders
The Minister’s excuse for not acting is the challenge of finding and stoppingpeople using small, portable HPLPs.
He also says officials are yet to provide him with any evidence that increasing penalties will deter laser offences.
However, Police have been successful in tracking down offenders using a combination of airborne and ground- based policing and infra-red technology.
Then who IS looking after our safety?
It is interesting that the information being publicly released on the laser threat is coming largely from the Ministry of Health, and not from the transport or aviation government agencies.
Where is the Civil Aviation Authority in this critical and lengthy debate? There is no mention of lasers in the exposure draft of the Civil Aviation Bill – the document intended to “facilitate the operation of a safe and secure
civil aviation system.”
We need the Government to step up and do more to protect those in the industry and general public safety – New Zealand has learned that the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude is no longer acceptable and action is best taken before, rather than in the devastating slip stream of a tragedy.
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