Pilots fear lasers may cause crash

Pilots warned yesterday that the increasing frequency with which some people are directing laser pointers at airplane cockpits could soon result in a disaster at one of the country’s airports. Their warning comes after three teenagers were arrested in a week for shining laser pens directly into the cockpit of commercial airliners as they came in for landing at two Greek airports. Two boys aged 13 and 14 were arrested on Saturday on Rhodes for forcing a pilot to abandon a landing at the Dodecanese island’s Diagoras Airport because they aimed a laser pointer at the airplane’s cockpit. The pilot of the flight from Alexandroupoli was forced to land on his second attempt. The teenagers’ parents were also arrested. A week earlier, a 16-year-old was arrested on Crete for shining a laser pen in the eyes of pilots coming in to land at Iraklio’s Nikos Kazantzakis Airport. «It usually happens during nighttime landings,» said Grigoris Constantellos, the president of the Civil Aviation Pilots’ Union. «When a plane comes in for landing, the lights in the cockpit are dimmed so the pilots can see the runway. Their pupils are dilated, so if a laser is shone in their eyes, the pilots are momentarily blinded. «These few seconds could prove fateful, especially if there are poor weather conditions, strong winds or if the plane has a fault, in which case the possibility of an accident is extremely high.» Constantellos said that dozens of cases in which laser pens have been shone at airplanes in Greece were recorded this year. The Thessaloniki prosecutor’s office last month launched a probe and asked police to be on the lookout after officials at Thessaloniki’s Macedonia Airport revealed that since the start of the year between 30 and 35 pilots had reported that the light from laser pens had been directed at their aircraft. Although small in size, some of the laser pointers, which are freely available on the market and often sold by street traders for 15 to 40 euros, are extremely powerful. «The laser beam can lead to wrong instrument readings during landing,» said the head of the Federation of Civil Aviation Pilots’ Unions. «The readings of the instruments at that moment are crucial and this interference could have disastrous consequences.»