Why your Griswold-style holiday display could be fined $ 11,000 from the FAA

If this season brings out the Clark Griswold in you, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a request. While extravagant home decorations can spread both Christmas cheer and jealousy among your neighbors, make sure your holiday laser lights are pointed at the house, not the sky.

In recent years, Christmas light spotlights have become all the rage in seasonal decorating, facilitating a task that traditionally required unraveling endless yards of string lights and standing on a ladder in freezing cold.

In a recent statement, the FAA said vacation laser displays can cause major problems for pilots. “Every year we receive reports of pilots who are distracted or temporarily blinded by residential laser screens,” the agency said.

“You may not realize it, but a well-intentioned attempt to spread the holiday cheer can potentially create a serious risk to the safety of pilots and passengers of overhead planes,” the statement continued. “So please make sure all laser lights are pointed at your house and are not pointing skyward. The extremely focused beams of laser lights reach much farther than you might think. “

Laser strikes have been reported up to 10,000 feet, according to FAA data. As of November 22, the agency had received 8,550 laser strike reports for 2021, up from 6,852 for 2020 as a whole. This marks the highest number of laser strike incidents since the FAA began to follow such incidents in 2010.

Additionally, laser strikes have increased since the start of the pandemic. The number of incidents reported in 2020 jumped 12% from 2019, despite a 60% year-over-year decline in the total number of flights made last year.

Most incidents involve individuals pointing beams at the night sky as planes take off or land, two of the most dangerous times in a flight because pilots have less reaction time when they are close to the ground. Of all fatal aircraft accidents, almost half (49%) occur during the final descent and landing phases of a flight, while 14% occur during take-off and initial climb.

Since 2012, it has been a federal crime to intentionally point a laser at an airplane. In an extension of a 1961 regulation in response to the increase in hijackings, the FAA noted in a 2011 memo that the agency was “aware of an increasing number of incidents with lasers pointed at. planes, a scenario that could not have been considered by the drafters of the rule of origin.

The crime carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000, although most offenders get away with much less. The FAA has imposed penalties of up to $ 30,800 for serial violators.

If a vacation laser display is identified as causing problems for pilots, the FAA will ask the owner to adjust the lasers or turn them off. But if the warnings go unheeded, the owner could face a civil fine of up to $ 11,000 per violation.

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