Laser attacks a “serious problem” around Faro Airport

The number of lasers being pointed at airplanes that are about to take off or land at Faro Airport has increased 30% this year.

The situation has been labelled “serious” as it can blind or cause serious damage to pilot’s vision, and thus endanger the lives of passengers.

“It is an illegal and dangerous act that obviously interferes with the aircraft,” Fernando Dutra from the airport’s control tower told Barlavento newspaper.

There have been 32 cases of laser strikes this year, most of which happen in the late afternoon in Olhão, Faro, Loulé and Quarteira/Vilamoura.

In Portugal, the number of laser attacks has been steadily increasing from 24 in 2010, 61 in 2011, 110 in 2012, 211 in 2013, 310 in 2014 and 232 up to September 14 this year. But so far no one has been caught.

“We try to give police the coordinates of the location where the laser came from. But it is a problem that is hard to control, and it is seriously worrying us,” Dutra admitted, calling for more “restrictive laws” to give authorities more power to act.

Flashing lasers into airplane’s cockpits can be punished with one to eight-year jail sentences according to current laws, but only if the “action leads to a disaster”.

As the European Cockpit Association (ECA) pointed out in 2011, there are a number of reasons why a laser attack can be dangerous.

Not only can they “distract” pilots, the laser can cause permanent injuries to their eyes and a number of other visual effects such as “glare, flash blindness and after image”.

The danger is imminent, authorities believe, and it isn’t just in Portugal that the frequency of laser attacks is increasing.

In the UK, more than 1,400 laser incidents were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority last year – up by 3.5% compared to 2013.

Drones are another concern

Also on the list of concerns is the increasing number of drones operated by people who might not be aware of the risks.

The danger is larger in the CTR (controlled traffic region) – an 8km area around the airport where the airspace is controlled and monitored by air authorities.

“Anyone who operates a flying object in the area without alerting air traffic authorities is doing so illegally and possibly dangerously,” explains Dutra.

“Even outside the CTR there is a controlled air space that goes all the way from Vila Real de Santo António to nearly Portimão. Any object that flies over 300 metres of altitude is also unauthorised and poses risks,” he said.

Drones haven’t been a problem this far, however, as pilots haven’t complained and many people have officially asked for authorisation to fly them.

He says that any kind of air activities – including skydiving, aerial photography and fireworks – should be communicated to air traffic authorities so that they can “inform Faro Airport and prevent risks”.

In related news, Barlavento has also reported that Faro Airport’s control tower is expecting a number of improvements in the next few months.

One of them is the introduction of the ILS system (Instrument Landing System) which provides guidance to airliners approaching and landing on runway 10 (so far is only available at runway 28, which handles most of the daily traffic at Faro). This feature that will be a safety boost to inbound flights at night or in poor weather/low visibility conditions.

Another improvement will be the construction of a training unit on the ground floor of the recently modernized tower.

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Photo by: Bruno Filipe Pires