(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Aviation Administration is sounding the alarm over a staggering increase in laser strikes against aircraft in the United States.

Laser strikes occur when people on the ground shine lasers toward aircraft in order to distract them. This can cause temporary blindness for pilots.


“It could dazzle a pilot’s eyes,” Ganyard told ABC News. “It’s essentially a single piloted airplane until the person whose eyes were dazzled comes back to normal and there’s always the chance that it can be caused permanent damage.”

Laser strikes on planes reached record numbers in 2021, according to new data from the FAA.

The agency received 9,723 reports of laser strikes last year — the highest number ever recorded.


“It’s distracting, and usually it happens when planes are close to the ground. That’s the last time you really want anybody flying a plane to be distracted,” Col. Steve Ganyard, an ABC News contributor, said.

Laser strikes have been on the rise in recent years — the FAA reported 6,852 incidents in 2020, 6,136 incidents in 2019 and 5,663 incidents in 2018.

“Many types of high-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots, many of whom are flying planes with hundreds of passengers,” the agency said.


Last year, there were 47 injuries related to the laser strikes, the FAA said.

Lasers used can be easily purchased in stores or online by civilians.

Intentionally aiming lasers at aircraft violates federal law. Individuals may face up to $11,000 in civil penalties per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple incidents. Violators can also face criminal penalties from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.


“The FAA continues to educate the public about the hazards of laser strikes because they pose such a serious threat to the safety of the pilot, the passengers and everyone in the vicinity of the aircraft,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a release.

The agency issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes last year.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.