British Airways pilot left unable to fly after 'military strength' laser damages eye during Heathrow landing

Civil airline authorities have noted a 'worrying' rise in the number of laser-related incidents

Rose Troup Buchanan
Tuesday 24 November 2015 10:44
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A British Airways co-pilot was left unable to fly and partially blinded after a “military strength” laser was shone into his eye as he prepared to land.

The unidentified man was landing at Heathrow earlier this year when the laser struck his right eye, according to the head of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa).

The incident heightened fears over the availability of military strength lasers, with Balpa claiming one in two pilots has been in a plane targeted by lasers in the past 12 months.

A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) report indicated there were 1,440 laser incidents in the past year, an increase of 3.5 per cent – and the first escalation of the number of incidents in three years.

London Heathrow reported 168 incidents – the worst of any UK airport – followed by Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Gatwick and Glasgow.

The pilot was treated at a Sheffield hospital for a damaged right retina, Balpa’s general secretary Jim McAuslan, said.

Mr McAuslan said children’s lasers, which have become popular in recent years and are easily available on the high street, were not powerful enough, “so we assume it must have been military strength”.

“It is on the black market, target-setters for weaponry. We are very concerned about it. These haven’t been strong lasers [to date], but when something like this, which damages a man’s retina, comes on the scene then that really starts to worry us,” he told The Times.

This is not the first reported incident of a pilot’s eyes being damaged by lasers: in 2012 a JetBlue pilot’s eyesight was damaged as he came in to land in New York’s JFK airport.

British Airways told The Independent they had "no record of this event," but they added: "The safety of our crew and our customers is always our main concern.

"Our pilots are required to report such incidents to make the authorities aware."

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