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Powerful green lasers posing a threat to planes should be strictly controlled

Pointing a powerful green laser at aircraft is no joke. It’s a dangerous practice and perpetrators should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

There have been thousands of incidents reported across the country, including in Western New York. A recent story in The News reported how Sky West Flight 6390 from Chicago was approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport on a Friday evening when the crew noticed a green dot appearing on the plane’s right wing.

The pilots had no doubt about what was happening. Someone out there was pointing a green laser at the aircraft on its critical approach to the airport. The plane landed safely, but the intense beam of light could have temporarily blinded the pilots, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Police and the FBI are searching Clarence for the perpetrator, although it is not an easy task. Someone convicted of pointing a laser at a plane can be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Considering what could happen from such a simple act, that is not too harsh a punishment for misusing the technology.

A laser pointed at a British Airways plane approaching London’s Heathrow Airport in the spring caused retina damage to a pilot.

A few weeks ago, news helicopters over Brooklyn were targeted by a laser. The pilots directed police to the scene, where a man was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment. That was a rare victory, though.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has spoken about the issue of powerful green lasers many times. He stopped at Buffalo Niagara International Airport a week ago and promised to pressure the Food and Drug Administration to ban their sale to the general public. Such a ban would eliminate one potential problem in the growing number of problems technology has wrought.

Most of us can remember when laser pointers were seemingly harmless tools used during PowerPoint presentations. The technology has evolved and lasers are now much more powerful and widely available.

The FDA has said laser pointers can be momentarily hazardous if someone stares directly at the beam. This “flash blindness” is a temporary or permanent loss of vision when the light-sensitive parts of the eyes are exposed to an intense beam of light.

Schumer spoke of a number of incidents in New York in which green lasers were pointed at aircraft, including another recent incident involving a Federal Express flight 23,000 feet over Jamestown and several in the downstate areas. Schumer cited the Federal Aviation Administration’s recording more than 5,300 laser strikes from January of this year through Oct. 16, an increase from the more than 2,800 laser strikes reported in 2010.

Technology can be applied in many ways. Compromising the safety of those in the air and on the ground should not be one of them. Banning the lasers, while continuing to aggressively search for wrongdoers, could prevent a tragedy.