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article imageOp-Ed: Blinding an airliner pilot cheaper than a parking fine in France

By Michael Cosgrove     Sep 9, 2010 in Crime
The latest fun prank for bored young people in France involves shining laser lights into the eyes of pilots trying to land passenger jets. Are the perpetrators irresponsible? No, they are downright psychopathic.
A young man of 20 was arrested recently on a parking lot in Villeneuve-le-Roi, a small town just outside Paris which borders Orly International, France’s second-biggest international airport after Paris Charles-de-Gaulle. He was charged with endangering the lives of others by shining a pocket laser beam light into the eyes of Air France and Easyjet airliner pilots during their final landing approach.
There have been thousands of similar incidents, with 400 cases being recorded since the beginning of the year at airports in Paris alone and many others at airports in Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon.
The sheer number of instances of people trying to blind pilots whilst landing has led Paris Airports Police to set up a special unit to try and track the origin of the lights using computer simulations of exactly where planes are at the moment they report that they are being attacked and which direction the laser light beam is coming from. At the same time, Air France has developed an emergency procedure designed to be adopted if a pilot is incapacitated by laser light attacks.
The problem facing pilots during the very final - and technically challenging - stages of landing is that they don’t have many options. They are too close to the ground to attempt to change direction, so they are obliged to either try to stick strictly to their landing course and trajectory by trying to shield their eyes or inform Air Traffic Control that they are aborting the landing and “going around” to attempt another one, that which often frightens passengers and disorganizes dozens of take offs and landings at a major airport.
Switzerland is also suffering an uptick in laser blinding attempts, with the Swiss Air Rescue authorities at Rega announcing that their planes and helicopters are being targeted. Air Rescue commander Werner Marty claims that all of his pilots have been attacked at least once, and that attacks on his helicopters are particularly dangerous as they often fly very low and at night.
Swiss authorities have yet to charge anyone in connection with the attacks, and it is proving difficult to catch attackers in France too, and even when they are caught, the sentences are derisory.
For putting the lives of hundreds of people both in the air and on the ground in danger, the young man caught near Orly was sentenced to a €1 symbolic damages payment to the pilots he attacked and a six-month prison sentence, of which he will not serve a day because it was a suspended sentence.
One Euro. That was all he got in concrete terms, and that reflects the general laxity of sentencing here for this offense. It’s not much compared to the young man in California who went to jail for a fixed term of two-and-a-half years.
A French member of parliament is trying to introduce a law to combat the menace. It’s maximum sentence? Six months prison and/or a €7,500 fine. That is woefully inadequate.
It is also unnecessary, seeing as there is already a law contained in article 132-75 of the Penal Code to address the malicious use of “Any object which may represent a danger to the public” which is “considered to be an arm when used to kill, injure or threaten the life of the person it is used against.”
The maximum sentence for this crime is 20 years in prison. So why isn’t this law being used when the crime involves a psychopathic individual who is so sick that he gets kicks out of deliberately trying to blind an airline pilot, which could lead to a major air disaster?
The good news is that I am confident that a 20-year sentence will be implemented one day. The downside, unfortunately, is that I would also be willing to bet that unless French authorities crack down on this crime soon, that sentence will be applied for the first time not to someone trying to blind a pilot, but to someone charged with causing an airliner to crash, leading to the deaths of what could amount to hundreds of people.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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