Houston high on list of laser-aircraft incidents

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston ranks fifth in the nation, ahead of both New York and Los Angeles, in incidents of "lasing," according to the Federal Aviation Administration's latest statistics.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense that can carry penalties of up to five years in prison and an $11,000 fine, although the crimes are rarely prosecuted because perpetrators are rarely identified and arrested.

In 2012, aircraft (airplanes and helicopters) were "lased" 47 times near Hobby Airport and 46 times near George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"Typically, aircraft are 'lased' during critical phases of flight," Lt. Philip Thisse, a U.S. Coast Guard pilot, said.

The Coast Guard airplane Thisse was piloting late last year near Corpus Christi was hit with a laser moments before landing safely.

"It hit me, caught me in my right eye," crew member Tony Armijo said.

Armijo was temporarily blinded by the bright green laser and took a trip to the emergency room.

No crashes have been attributed to laser incidences, but the number of incidents in the Houston area is cause for concern.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said it is not exactly clear why Houston has more reported incidents of "lasing" annually than some bigger cities, but southeast Texas' wide open spaces may have something to do with it, he postulated.

In 2011, Phoenix led the nation with 130 reported "lasing" events. 

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