Manufacturer says recreational lasers pose no danger to airplanes

CORVALLIS, Ore., 5 January 2005. Authorities with the FAA and FBI are investigating two incidents in which laser beams were aimed at aircraft flying over northern New Jersey.

Jan 5th, 2005

CORVALLIS, Ore., 5 January 2005. Authorities with the FAA and FBI are investigating two incidents in which laser beams were aimed at aircraft flying over northern New Jersey.

Federal agents are also looking into similar incidents involving lasers and aircraft, including cases in Cleveland, Washington, Houston, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Medford, Ore. Potentially, laser beams can temporarily blind or disorient pilots and possibly cause a plane to crash.

On Jan. 1, FBI agents confiscated a recreational, handheld laser from a suspect in the New Jersey incident, according to the Associated Press.

Now that laser's manufacturer -- Bigha, of Corvallis, Ore. -- has announced that its product poses no danger to airplanes. The company's web site describes its laser as useful for astronomy and other pointing purposes but warns users not to aim at aircraft, cars or people.

Bigha's Jasper pocket-laser is a Class IIIa, 5 milliwatt green laser. Powered by a lithium battery, it produces a 532-nanometer beam.

"The handheld laser is an amazing tool, not a deathray. Our laser, while powerful, is carefully manufactured and tested to meet government regulations and is perfectly safe when used responsibly," said company President John Acres.

Because the human eye is at least twenty times more sensitive to green than red, the green laser appears much brighter than traditional red lasers though it uses no more power, Bigha says. Handheld green lasers have become more popular since prices dropped last year from over $350 to around $130. Approximately 100,000 green lasers were sold in the United States in 2004 -- double that of the previous year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates laser power, the company says. "Our laser provides the maximum legally allowed power for general use, but is still twenty thousand times less powerful than a standard 100 watt household light bulb. It simply does not contain enough energy to cause anything to burn, much less crash an airplane as some people fear," says Acres.

The green laser beam is incredibly bright when viewed head-on and will cause temporary blindness if shined directly into the eye from close range, according to the Bigha website. At longer distances, the beam is still bright enough to startle a person that is concentrating on another activity such as driving a car or flying an airplane. The beam is easily visible for several miles under the right conditions though it rapidly dims as distance increases. For more information, see www.bigha.com.

Green lasers are safely used by tens of thousands of birdwatchers, astronomers, botanists and lecturers worldwide. "Personal responsibility is key," says Acres. "Like a kitchen knife or power saw, the laser is a wonderful tool when used with care and common sense."

Federal law enforcement officials have said there is no evidence of a terrorist plot involving laser beams, though last month the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent a memo to law enforcement agencies saying there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons, according to the AP report.

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