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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 23:32 GMT
US tackles plane 'laser tracking'
Airliner cockpit
Pilots must report any laser beams to air traffic control for action
The US government has issued new guidance to airline pilots after dozens reported lasers being shone into their cockpit during take-off or landing.

Transport Secretary Norman Mineta said 31 such incidents had been reported in the US in the past two weeks.

He said there was no apparent link to terrorism but warned that those responsible were putting lives at risk.

Pilots must now report any laser incidents to air traffic control, for investigation by the FBI and police.

Shining these lasers at an airplane is not a harmless prank
Norman Mineta
US transport secretary

Mr Mineta said beaming pen-style lasers and pointers into a cockpit could disorientate a pilot at a critical time in the flight and even cause permanent damage to the eyes.

There had been 400 such incidents since 1990, he told a news conference in Oklahoma City, with a sudden spate recorded over the Christmas and New Year period.

The latest occurrence involved a Southwest Airlines flight in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday. No-one was arrested.

"Shining these lasers at an airplane is not a harmless prank," Mr Mineta said. "It's stupid and dangerous.

Tragic accident

"You are putting other people at risk and law enforcement authorities are going to seek you out and if they catch you, they are going to prosecute you."

He said the recent flurry of laser tracking was probably the result of copycat action.

"As far as we know, lasers are not the terrorists' weapons of choice, nor is there any evidence that these incidents are terrorists practising for use of other weapons, as some people have speculated," Mr Mineta said.

Under the new guidelines, pilots must report any laser incidents to air traffic controllers.

They will alert all law enforcement agencies and broadcast a warning to air traffic across the US. All aircraft will then be directed away from where the laser was used.

The BBC's Daniela Relph in Washington says what was a rare occurrence has turned into a serious aviation problem for the police and US government.

She says the government is under pressure to act now before a tragic accident occurs.

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