People found carrying powerful laser pointers should be arrested even if they are not using them, the head of the UK’s aviation regulator has said.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said new legislation is needed to cut the number of laser attacks on aircraft.
There have been a number of incidents in Wigan borough in recent years in which these potentially blinding lights have been shone at passing aircraft including the police helicopter, leading to several prosecutions.
The most up-to-date local figures show 16 similar incidents occurred in the borough in 2013/14.
More recently there has been a bigger problem in Wigan with youngsters shining the pens at motorists, including in April, a fire crew attending a 999 call in Platt Bridge.
Mr Haines believes the misuse of lasers is a tougher issue to solve than near misses involving drones because the former are “a deliberate attempt to cause harm”.
Under the existing Air Navigation Order 2009, it is an offence to act in a manner “likely to endanger an aircraft”.
Mr Haines expressed his frustration at the difficulty in prosecuting people under this law because of the requirement to “find the person undertaking the task and...demonstrate intent”. There is also a lesser offence of shining a light at an aircraft but the CAA boss called for the law to be toughened so anyone found carrying a laser pointer can be arrested.
Mr Haines said: “We and Balpa, the pilots’ trade union, are very keen that the Government introduces legislation which means that the mere possession of these high-powered lasers by individuals not licensed for them would be a criminal offence. Why does Joe Bloggs walking down the street need a laser that can pop a balloon at 50 miles, that can cause permanent damage to a pilot?”