There’s an alarming increase in the number of high-powered laser attacks on passenger jets and medical helicopters flying into GTA airspace, and police and transportation authorities aren’t sure how to deal with it.
Using green astronomy lasers that can temporarily disorient a pilot, an unknown group of people have fired on aircraft from Woodbine Racetrack, Bluffers Park, a TTC station and other locations from Georgetown to Markham. There have been 28 of these attacks locally so far this year and the GTA accounts for 53 per cent of the national total for 2009.
“It’s distracting (and) it’s a flight safety issue,” says Cliff Rundle, a medical helicopter pilot who has had his cockpit beamed by a laser three times while flying low.
Each time he has been en route to a Toronto hospital with a patient in critical condition.
“The cockpit lights up if you get a good hit. The light draws your attention right to it, and that’s the problem. You’re no longer paying attention to your flight.”
Toronto area police and federal transport officials are powerless to catch the laser-beaming culprits.
In the U.S., police helicopters are routinely dispatched to track the source of laser beams. But with just one police helicopter in the GTA, police here say that’s not an option. Laser attacks have yet to be blamed for downing an aircraft, but the Air Canada Pilots Association considers them one of the greatest safety concerns to their profession.