Pilot Education: LASER Exposure & Eye Injury

December 6, 2016

LASER exposure continues to be an increasingly frequent problem in both military and civilian aviation.  Typically, these exposures arise from people pointing green commercial LASERs directly at flying aircraft.The FAA has been tracking the number of LASER incidents since 2005. This number has been increasing every year.


Pilots and other aircrew are at risk for two serious consequences of LASER exposure

  1. Direct eye injury
  2. Transient visual disturbance or blindness

The former can affect or even end a pilot's career by temporary or permanent eye injury.  The latter may directly lead to mishap or catastrophic crash.  Below are several examples of temporary visual disturbance that LASERs can inflict upon aircrew in a cockpit depending on altitude (distance from exposure).

FAA flight simulator showing DISTRACTION where the light does not obscure vision but can distract the pilot. Light intensity 0.5 μW/cm²; for example, a legal 5 mW laser pointer at 3,700 feet (1,100 m).

FAA flight simulator showing veiling GLARE where it is hard to see through the light to the background scene. Light level 5.0 μW/cm²; for example, a legal 5 mW laser pointer at 1,200 feet (370 m).

Simulation of TEMPORARY FLASH BLINDNESS where the image takes from a few seconds to a few minutes to fade away, depending on how much light entered the eye. Light level 50 μW/cm²; for example, a legal 5 mW laser pointer at 350 feet (110 m).


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides specific advice to pilots in the event they encounter a potential LASER exposure.

  • Anticipate – When operating in a known or suspected LASER environment, the non-flying pilot should be prepared to take control of the aircraft.
  • Aviate – Check aircraft configuration and (if available) consider engaging the autopilot to maintain the established flight path.
  • Navigate – Use the fuselage of the aircraft to block the LASER beam by climbing or turning away.
  • Communicate – Inform Air Traffic Control of the situation. Include location/direction of the beam, your present location, altitude, etc. Once on the ground, request and complete a “LASER Beam Exposure Questionnaire” (i.e., AC 70-2 for civilian aviation or respective military branch's version).  Inform your flight surgeon of exposure or if you have additional questions/concerns.
  • Illuminate – Turn up the cockpit lights to minimize any further illumination effects.
  • Delegate – If another crewmember has avoided exposure, consider handing over control to the unexposed crewmember.
  • Attenuate – Shield your eyes when possible (hand, clipboard, visor, etc.). Do not look directly at the laser beam and avoid drawing other crewmembers’ attention to the beam.
  • Do Not Exacerbate – Avoid rubbing of eyes and possibly inducing further injury.
  • Evaluate – If any visual symptoms persist after landing, get an examination by an eye doctor or report to your respective aerospace medicine professional.


On February 14, 2012, the President signed Public Law 112-95 (PDF), the "FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012." Section 311 amended Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C.) Chapter 2, § 39, by adding § 39A, which makes it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft.On July 15 2016, President Obama signed the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, raising the maximum civil penalty that FAA can impose from $11,000 to $25,000. This provision also provides funding for the agency to report four times a year to Congress about the following:

  • Number of laser pointer incidents reported to FAA
  • Number of civil and criminal enforcement actions
  • Resolution of any incidents that did not result in a civil or criminal action
  • Any actions taken to help deter laser pointer incidents

Additionally, the FBI has authorized programs with rewards up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of those individuals aiming LASERs at aircraft.

Another post describing the pathophysiology of LASER eye injury can be found here. This post is written primarily for medical providers.  


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