Senate Would Criminalize Laser Targeting of Planes

By Joan Lowy | February 3, 2011 | 6:49 PM EST

Washington (AP) - The Senate has agreed to an amendment that would criminalize the pointing of powerful handheld lasers at aircraft, a growing problem that aviation officials say could lead to an air crash.

An amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, to make targeting aircraft with lasers a crime punishable by up to five years in prison was approved Thursday by a 96 to 1 vote.

The lasers can temporarily blind pilots. Senators called the problem a grave safety and security threat.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the number of incidents in which people pointed lasers at planes and helicopters nearly doubled last year, from 1,527 incidents in 2009 to 2,836 incidents in 2010.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, was the only "no" vote.