Yes, it is illegal to direct a laser at an airplane. Due to a growing amount of commercial airline pilots reporting lasers being pointed at them while transporting passengers, Congress and several states have passed laws criminalizing the behavior.

While it may seem extreme to criminalize pointing a laser at an aircraft, the reason for these laws is to deter extremely dangerous behavior. Studies have shown that these lasers cause severe glare in the cockpits, essentially temporarily blinding airplane pilots for periods at a time.

What Are Laws Surrounding Lasers and Aircrafts?

The federal law in place makes it illegal for anyone to:

  1. Knowingly
  2. Aim a laser beam
  3. At an aircraft or the flight path of an aircraft

This crime is punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison.

Additionally, the following states and cities have imposed laws on pointing lasers at pilots or airplanes:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana (in Baton Rouge)
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts*
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey (in Ocean City)
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia

*In Massachusetts, while there have been successful prosecutions against individuals who point lasers at aircraft as interfering with their operation, there are no direct laws on point.

Furthermore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is offering $10,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of someone who is pointing lasers at aircrafts. While this is not exactly a law, it demonstrates the increased federal attention and efforts to regulate the behavior.

The FBI has designated the following offices as part of a new program aimed at enforcing laws against those who point lasers at airplanes. These offices are located in:

  • Albuquerque
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • Sacramento
  • San Antonio
  • San Juan
  • Washington D.C.

Should I Contact An Attorney?

Due to the increased attention and criminalization of pointing lasers at airplanes, as well as the efforts being made my local and federal authorities to apprehend those who have pointed lasers at airplanes, it would be wise to contact a lawyer immediately. If you are unsure of the laws in your state, contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the current laws of your jurisdiction.