Mineta announces laser guidelines for pilots
(CNN) -- -- Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta announced new guidelines on Wednesday for pilots to report incidents in which laser beams are shone in their cockpits during flight, saying there have been 31 such incidents since December 31.
In his announcement in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Mineta said there is no "credible or specific intelligence that would indicate that these laser incidents are connected to terrorists."
He said the incidents seemed to be the work of pranksters.
"Lasers are not toys. Shining lasers into cockpits can put crews and passengers in harm's way," Mineta said. "Shining these lasers at an airplane is not a harmless prank, it is stupid and it is dangerous."
Mineta said beginning January 19, all pilots would be required to immediately report any laser sightings to air traffic controllers, who would then advise all pilots in the area and inform law enforcement officials.
"We will work with police to identify the source of the lasers," the secretary said. "We will do everything we can to make sure each case is aggressively prosecuted."
Mineta said the most recent incidents have not been concentrated in one area of the country but have been in several different cities from coast to coast.
The latest occurred Tuesday night in Phoenix, Arizona, he said. In that case, the pilot was able to determine that the laser was coming from a building on airport grounds.
Research shows that lasers could temporarily disorient or disable a pilot "during critical stages of flight such as landing or takeoff or cause permanent eye damage," Mineta said.
He said the only known injury so far is the first officer of one plane whose retinas were slightly burned by the laser.
The secretary also suggested better product labeling and consumer education about lasers, which are sold commercially as pen-type lasers.
Mineta said that about 400 laser incidents have been reported since 1990. He suggested the recent rash of incidents was the work of copycats.
Last week, a New Jersey man was released on $100,000 bail after federal authorities accused him of pointing a laser beam at two aircraft in December.
David Banach, 38, of Parsippany, New Jersey, surrendered on charges of interfering with the operation of a mass transit vehicle and making false statements to federal agents.
Prosecutors say Banach aimed laser pointers at aircraft in separate incidents on December 29 and December 31.