Laser beams: as if there was nothing else for pilots to worry about

About a month ago a student asked me to listen to something he’d recorded during one of his flights. Even with my trained ear, at first I couldn’t understand all the words, though it was clear to me that it was an ATIS from SBGL Not willing to admit defeat, I listened again, and what I heard this time left me agape:

“(…) possibility of laser beams in the vicinity of the airport (…)”

Say what? Laser beams? Yes, that’s right. Apparently, it’s quite the rage with youngsters (and some oldsters, too) to aim those laser beam pointers, which are in fact intended to be used in meetings or lectures, at airplanes as they are approaching to land at major airports in Brazil.

So much so that the FAA and Boeing both have published bulletins warning pilots about this hazard.

To those who still consider this gadget to be harmless, here goes a very enlightening scientific article published earlier this year by a group of Brazilian Aviation Professionals. Here’s another one published in 2009 by the executive director of the International Laser Display Association (ILDA). Even they agree that laser beams directed at the flight decks of aircraft may be hazardous to flights, due to the effects they can have on pilots.

According to Mr Patrick Murphy, from ILDA, these effects are usually temporary, and noticeable at night, but they may cause pilots to get distracted at critical phases of the flight, like takeoffs and landings, therefore increasing the risk of an accident.

Having said that, it’s important to highlight that this issue is present in other countries too, not only in our beloved homeland. As seen in these articles, laser beams have been a problem in the US, in Canada, in New Zealand, in the Philippines, in Ireland… I’m sure the list goes on and on.

Now, my question is: do pilots really need something else to take up their attention during the flight? Isn’t it enough to fly a highly technological aircraft full of people, dealing with congested air traffic, bad weather, birds, potential medical emergencies, Air Traffic Control shortcomings and whatnot? And at critical phases of flight, no less, when the workload is the highest?

Well, I’m just saying…

ATIS – Automatic Terminal Information System. Information about the airport conditions at any given moment, which pilots listen to before they approach such airport.
SBGL- The international IATA code for Galeão International Airport, in Rio de Janeiro.

Questions about vocabulary? Let me know if I can help!


1 Comment

Filed under learn, News, tips

One response to “Laser beams: as if there was nothing else for pilots to worry about

  1. João B. L. Ghizoni

    What a great text, Carol! Congratulations!

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