Striking back against laser attacks

Concern about laser attacks is nothing new among pilots, but the industry continues to search for definitive protection against the potentially disastrous effects of a high-intensity beam.

Two pilots sit in an airplane cockpit with a laser glaring through the windshield.
A laser attack can distract pilots, cause glare that affects their vision, or temporarily blind them. Transport Canada Photo
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A new entry in that search is ST Laserstrike, which recently debuted a set of lightweight, high-durability lenses that protect against both green and blue lasers and infrared and ultraviolet light.

“It’s something that’s a growing problem worldwide,” said Tony Reed, the company’s president.

“We’ve spent the last several years trying to perfect a product that would protect pilots against that.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 7,347 laser incidents in the United States in 2015, a significant increase from the 3,894 reported the year before.

Apart from a slight dip in 2012, the number of reported incidents has been climbing steadily over the past decade. There were only 384 incidents reported in 2006.

Laser incidents have also been on the rise in Canada, where nearly 600 were reported in 2015, compared with 502 incidents the year before.

“Canadian pilots have the same problems as other pilots around the world with laser attacks,” said Reed. “There are fewer overall numbers of attacks in Canada but that quantity roughly tracks the U.S. data when comparing the number of attacks to the number of flights.  As in the U.S. and other countries, aircraft operating in Canadian airspace are attacked without discrimination.”

A laser attack can distract pilots, cause glare that affects their vision, or temporarily blind them — a huge concern during any stage of flight, but especially during takeoff and landing.

Tracy Maloney, sales coordinator for ST Laserstrike, models glasses that block out the majority of light from green and blue lasers, as well as infrared and ultraviolet light.
Tracy Maloney, sales coordinator for ST Laserstrike, models glasses that block out the majority of light from green and blue lasers, as well as infrared and ultraviolet light. Ben Forrest Photo

“Several years ago I saw the need for this, and I had this idea,” said Reed, who is also a certified flight instructor and has a commercial pilot licence with instrument, multi-engine and seaplane ratings. “I began looking around for people who had some specialty knowledge in trying to produce this kind of product.”

He found like-minded partners in the United Kingdom and formed a joint venture with them, working together for the last four years to develop the product.

ST Laserstrike bills its glasses as the most advanced product available, using the latest lens manufacturing and coating technologies.

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The product blocks most of the light produced by blue and green lasers, while preserving a pilot’s ability to see colours on the instrument panel.

“We’ve been able to put a true colour view,” said Reed. “You don’t lose any of those colours off the instrument panel with this.”

The glasses come in three different frames, including one that resembles typical aviator sunglasses. They are heads-up display and night vision compatible and can be fitted with prescription lenses.

“Helicopters in particular are vulnerable, because they’re low and slow all the time,” said Reed. “So we recommend that helicopter pilots wear these all the time at night.

“Fixed-wing aircraft — it depends on the flight ops department, but we normally recommend until 10 minutes after departure and then 10 minutes before landing, because that pretty much takes you in and out of the danger zone for that.”

ST Laserstrike made its debut at Helitech International 2016 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and also had a presence at the 2016 National Business Aviation Association Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Orlando, Fla.

The product was well-received at both shows.

“Here we’ve actually been overwhelmed with the response,” said Reed in an interview at NBAA-BACE. “It’s really gratifying to see how well-accepted it’s become.”

Reed acknowledged it’s difficult to say what the company is projecting in terms of sales, but added the company is encouraged.

“Everyone has just been really supportive,” he said. “I think it’s going to be difficult to keep up with the initial demand.”

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