Is Aiming a Laser Pointer at an Airplane Illegal?

Let’s say you’re outside your home one night with a laser pointer in hand. You see a plane flying overhead and recall something your friend told you about aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft being illegal. Directing the device at a nearby building, you see that it only emits a small light, and think that the law might only apply to more powerful lasers. You aim the pointer toward the plane and click the button. A few minutes later, the police are knocking at your door.

In Texas, it is actually against the law for you to direct a laser pointer at an airplane.

Texas Penal Code 42.14 states that it is illegal to:

  • Intentionally aim the beam from a laser pointer (or another light source) at an aircraft, where
  • The light can make it difficult for the operator to control the aircraft

Why Is this Conduct Unlawful?

When you’re using a laser pointer during a presentation, or just to point at things around your home, the beam might look small and unharmful. It’s just a red or green light that puts a small dot on whatever you’re aiming at.

However, even a handheld laser can be powerful enough to disorient an aircraft operator, as the beams can be hazardous to up to 12,000 feet. When they reach such heights, they spread out and appear a lot larger than they do when pointed at something closer.

Additionally, the material aircraft windshields are made of can amplify the laser pointer beam even more. That means when you point your device at a plane or a helicopter, the light will be almost blinding to the pilot.

What does a laser light pointed from the ground look like to a pilot? Imagine you’re in a dark room and someone takes a picture with the flash on. The light is immensely bright, and your eyes may have difficulty adjusting to the sudden change. That’s how a laser beam can be perceived by an aircraft pilot.

Although no accidents have been reported because of laser lights being aimed at aircraft, some pilots have had to change course as a result. Additionally, many aircraft operators who have been disoriented by laser pointer beams have had to seek medical attention.

What Are the Potential Conviction Penalties?

A violation of Texas Penal Code 42.14 is a Class C misdemeanor. That means if you’re convicted of this offense, you could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500.

However, if the laser pointer light makes it difficult for the pilot to control the aircraft, your charges increase to a Class A misdemeanor. Then, you’re facing jail time of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $4,000.

Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is taken so seriously that it’s not only a state crime but also a federal offense. The conviction penalties for a federal violation include imprisonment for up to 5 years and/or a fine.

If you’re facing a felony or misdemeanor charge in Bryan and College Station, contact our attorneys at Rodriguez & Gimbert for skilled legal defense. We can be reached by phone at (979) 559-3599 or online.