ALPA Pilots Testify Before Congress on Laser Incidents 

FAA Associate Administrator supports ALPA recommendations

Captain Terry McVenes

ALPA pilots testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday about the increasing vulnerability of aircrew and passengers to laser exposure. An inordinate number of such incidences have occurred in recent months, and some have resulted in incapacitation of cockpit crew during critical phases of flight.

"Flight operations nearest to the ground, especially during approach and landing, are of greatest concern," said Capt. Terry McVenes (US Airways), ALPA's Executive Air Safety Chairman. "There has been a proliferation of visible laser beams in protected airspace as a result of increased availability of low-powered laser devices on the Internet. Twenty laser events were reported between Dec. 23, 2004, and Jan. 2, 2005, alone."

Capt. McVenes appeared before the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure [read testimony] along with First Officer Parry Winder (Delta), who suffered injury as a consequence of laser illumination in the cockpit late last year. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee, and ranking member Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) called the hearing to investigate the hazards that lasers create for pilots.

First Officer Parry Winder

On Sept. 22, 2004, F/O Winder was flying the ILS Runway 35 approach into Salt Lake City International Airport when he and the captain noticed a bright green light illuminating the cockpit's overhead panel. The laser caught F/O Winder in the right eye. At the time, the aircraft was flying at 2,400 AGL.

Other than seeing some spots, F/O Winder noticed no significant effects and was able to continue the approach, landing the airplane safely. The next day, he experienced intense pain and swelling and was grounded for 3 weeks.

Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) questioned F/O Winder about an article the lawmaker had read in the March issue of Air Line Pilot detailing the threat that lasers pose to airline pilots. Rep. Duncan urged close collaboration with general aviation groups on the issue, saying the problem presented serious consequences for all pilots.

ALPA's recommendations to the subcommittee include:

When questioned by committee members about whether the FAA backed ALPA's proposals, Associate Administrator for Aviation Administration Nicholas Sabatini, who also appeared before the committee, responded: "I definitely would support the recommendations made by ALPA."

In the wake of the pilots' testimony, news media outlets across the country picked up the story. In addition to coverage in numerous national and local newspapers, F/O Winder also appeared on ABC News, Good Morning America, and on CNN programming to recount his experience and advocate for pilot protections against lasers.