News / Canada

Laser strike hits Air Canada pilot; officials concerned of 'potential for catastrophic consequences'

The pilot of an Air Canada jet was left with blurred vision when someone aimed a laser at the aircraft during its approach to Pearson International Airport.

The cockpit of an Airbus A318 at the Asian Aerospace Show in Hong Kong in 2011. The pilot of an Air Canada jet had his vision blurred when the plane's cockpit was hit by a laser during a landing at Pearson airport last month.

AP

The cockpit of an Airbus A318 at the Asian Aerospace Show in Hong Kong in 2011. The pilot of an Air Canada jet had his vision blurred when the plane's cockpit was hit by a laser during a landing at Pearson airport last month.

OTTAWA—The pilot of an Air Canada jet was left with blurred vision when someone aimed a laser at the aircraft during its approach to Pearson International Airport.

The incident — one of a spate of laser strikes last month involving flights into Pearson — is yet another reminder of the dangers of these devices, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the Star.

The Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 with 113 passengers onboard was lined up for landing following a flight from Panama City, Panama when it was struck by a green laser.

The first officer was looking at a tablet mounted by the side cockpit window when the aircraft was hit a second time by the laser.

“The first officer experienced a direct hit in the eyes by the laser, and experienced blurred vision and discomfort lasting for 10-15 minutes,” said a preliminary Transport Canada report.

The captain continued the approach to a safe landing. A report was filed with Peel Regional Police.

It’s not known if the pilot suffered lasting injuries. Air Canada did not respond to requests for information about the incident.

Several other aircraft also reported laser strikes at the same point in their approach to runways 23 and 24 Right that night and the following night, according to the Transport Canada report. The laser was reported to be coming from individuals in a park near Albion Rd. and Islington Ave.

A spokesperson for Toronto police said they responded to two calls about lasers and aircraft last month and while officers did investigate, no arrests were made.

While the number of laser strikes is starting to drop, Garneau said it is “still far too high.”

“We still have work to do to sensitize people to the fact that pointing a laser at the cockpit of an aircraft, particularly when the pilot is focused on coming in to land or taking off, can be catastrophic,” Garneau said.

“I can’t say that enough times and people need to realize how serious an offence this is,” he said.

The small, hand-held lasers have become a big safety concern for pilots. The concentrated beam of light can cause temporary blindness and even permanent eye damage.

Since mid-November, there have been 23 laser strikes on commercial jets in the Toronto-area, happening often as the aircraft are just 400 metres above the ground during the descent for landing,

“Laser strikes can be very disruptive during both take off and approach. These are critical phases of flight, and a laser strike, especially during these sensitive operations, has the potential for catastrophic consequences,” said Christopher Praught, spokesperson for the Air Canada Pilots Association.

There were almost 600 laser strikes reported to Transport Canada in 2016 and 2015, up from 502 incidents in 2014. So far this year, Transport Canada has logged about 381 laser strikes nationwide.

Garneau earlier this year launched an awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of pointing lasers at aircraft. He also reminded people about the legal consequences, if caught pointing a laser at an aircraft, which includes up to $100,000 in fines and five years in prison.

The Air Canada Pilots Association says these lasers should be prohibited weapons and wants tougher fines and stiffer sentences for those caught using them against aircraft. “We do not believe there is a practical application for these devices,” Praught said in an email.

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