By Barbara Hollands
PILOTS in the Eastern Cape are increasingly at risk from powerful illegal lasers flashed from the ground to blind and disorientate them on their approach or take-off at the province’s two major airports.
And now the laser users have been warned they can go to jail for up to 10 years or be fined heavily as such incidents are classified as “criminal attacks”. The sentence could be as high as 30 years if the lasers cause a serious crash.
The warning was issued after the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) Company of SA announced last week that East London and Port Elizabeth airports ranked third and fifth respectively for laser attacks.
A local flight instructor has also told how he has been a victim of the dangerous practice four times.
The crime is carried out at night, usually on the aircraft’s final approach to an airport with perpetrators shining illegally imported lasers straight into an aircraft’s cockpit. Almost 200 attacks have been recorded at the country’s airports since the start of 2010.
In Port Elizabeth there have been 14 attacks since January 2010, all originating from the Walmer Heights and Summerstrand areas. Cape Town International recorded the highest number – a staggering 106 in the last two years.
ATNS investigation and standards specialist Allan van der Heiden said the number of incidents had almost doubled year on year since 2010. He said planes from all commercial aviation companies had been targeted.
Van der Heiden said the George Airport