Is It Illegal to Point a Laser at a Plane?

is pointing a laser at a plane illegal - plane flying in the sky between skyscrapers

Is It Illegal to Point a Laser at a Plane?

With two major airports in the area—Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport—planes in the skies above Phoenix and Chandler are a regular sight. Although airplanes normally fly a great distance above you, their pilots can be affected by certain things on the ground, including laser pointers. In fact, pointing a laser at a plane is illegal—here’s why. 

What happens if you point a laser at a plane?  

While an airplane pilot will not be able to see you wave at them when they are in the air, they can see the light emitted from a laser pointer. That is because lasers create a very concentrated beam of light capable of traveling a lot farther than most people realize. 

Although laser pointers do not produce a lot of light on the ground, when projected into the sky, the light disperses and the beam becomes much larger. This can temporarily blind a pilot, putting them and the hundreds of passengers on their plane at risk. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offers a video showing the effect a laser pointer’s light can have on a pilot’s vision. 

According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots reported 9,723 laser strikes in 2021, which is the highest number ever recorded. Arizona has ranked as one of the top five states for laser strike incidents since reporting began in 2010, with a total of 3,332 reports. In 2021, 235 of those laser strike incidents took place in Phoenix. 

Is pointing a laser at a plane illegal?

Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime. According to United States law, a person convicted of aiming a laser pointer at a plane faces prison time of up to five years. Additionally, they may face fines from the FAA of up to $11,000 per violation, and up to $30,800 for multiple incidents. 

In addition to facing possible federal charges, Arizona statute ARS 13-1213 makes aiming a laser pointer at an occupied aircraft a Class 1 misdemeanor. Under a Class 1 misdemeanor, the penalty for pointing a laser at an aircraft in Arizona might include up to six months in jail, three years on probation, and additional fines. 

Keep Laser Pointers On the Ground 

Is pointing a laser at a plane illegal? Yes, it is a crime in both Arizona and the United States. In fact, The FBI launched a program in 2014 offering rewards to those who provided information on people who pointed a laser at an airplane.  

If convicted of pointing a laser at a plane you will be facing jail time and heavy fines from the federal government. This type of conviction can mar your record for the rest of your life, taking away your civil liberties and making it hard for you to earn a living. 

If you face charges of pointing a laser at a plane, certified criminal law specialist Todd Coolidge will work to reduce the charges against you or have them removed altogether. Contact him today at 602-795-0770 in Phoenix, or 480-264-5111 in Chandler for an appointment. 

Photo by Austin Zhang on