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Laser strikes on airplanes hit a record in 2023, with hundreds reported in Arizona

Incidents where people on the ground pointed lasers at airplanes reached a record high in 2023, with 558 laser strikes occurring in airspace over Arizona. The state’s per capita rate of these crimes was fifth-highest in the U.S.

Even a toy laser-pointer directed at the sky can temporarily blind a pilot, putting passengers at risk, Federal Aviation Administration administrator Mike Whitaker said in a  video message

"Bottom line: Lasers and aircraft don’t mix. If you have a laser, please use it responsibly and never point it at an aircraft," Whitaker said. 

Laser strikes are a federal offense and can result in jail time or fines up to $11,000, Whitaker said.

Data from the FAA shows the number of laser strike incidents nationwide has been steadily rising since 2010, but there was an especially dramatic increase last year. The 13,304 laser strikes reported in 2023 was a 40% jump from the previous year. 

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.