British pilots have called for modern laser pointers to be classed as “offensive weapons” following an incident involving a Virgin Atlantic flight this week.
On Sunday evening, a Virgin flight from Heathrow to New York had to turn round shortly after take-off after air traffic control was informed of a “medical issue” with one of the pilots, when a laser beam hit the cockpit and “dazzled” the pilot.
The flight was grounded overnight, and the 252 passengers put up in hotels.
Shining a laser at a plane can be a criminal offence. There have been no arrests, but police are investigating.
"This is not an isolated incident," British Airline Pilots Association's (Balpa's) general secretary Jim McAuslan said. "Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength."
“Modern lasers have the power to blind and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight,” he said.
Former pilot and fellow member of the pilot's union Dave Smith said legislation on lasers - first introduced in 2010 - should be much tougher.
“The law from 2010 is just an offence of shining the laser into the cockpit, but of course that is very difficult to prove," he said.
Balpa is calling for sales of all but the lowest power devices to be regulated.