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Aussie laser-pointer dazzle attacks on airliners: Bad

Politicos talk ban after six Sydney flights delayed

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Australian politicians are demanding restrictions on the ownership of laser pointers in the land down under. The banning calls follow a series of widely-reported incidents in which individuals on the ground have attempted to dazzle pilots of commercial aircraft making approaches to landing.

A particularly troublesome dazzling attack took place last Friday, involving at least four comparatively-powerful green laser pointers in the Bexley area of Sydney. Six passenger flights were affected, with air-traffic controllers having to re-route the planes.

"The use of these laser pointers against aeroplanes is unbelievably stupid and cannot be tolerated," Australian Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"I cannot say what the motivation of this extraordinarily irresponsible behaviour has been - there are a range of possibilities from vandalism and stupidity through to outright criminality.

"There is every reason to treat these devices as if they are firearms and respond with that kind of severity."

Laser-dazzling harassment of aircraft in Australia is a common problem, with official spokesmen saying that five to six incidents are typically reported each week.

New South Wales Police Minister David Campbell said that the state might ban laser pointers.

"There are some penalties that police can impose now, but we're looking to make these items a prohibited weapon in certain circumstances," he told the Herald.

Some green laser pointers are significantly more powerful than ordinary red ones, with expensive models putting out enough energy to pop a balloon at close range. Their effects against aircraft, however, are purely a matter of dazzling the pilots. There has been military interest in "non-lethal" laser weapons intended for just this sort of attack, or perhaps ones which might permanently blind enemies - though purpose-built blinding weapons are banned by international convention.

In Canada, there has recently been a debate over government plans to trial dazzler technology in Afghanistan, as an alternative to deadly force; Canadian troops are committed in the dangerous southern areas of Afghanistan, and have been compelled to open fire many times. In general, however, the huge amounts of negative publicity resulting from non-lethal weapons has made armed forces and police reluctant to get seriously involved.

America has also seen lasering of airline pilots, with the Feds deploying Patriot Act measures against suspected dazzler terrorists a couple of years back.

Read the Sydney Morning Herald report here. ®

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