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Lasers illuminate airline cockpits on approach

Six incidents in four days

Air Transportation
Department of Homeland Security
Continental Airlines Incorporated
Delta Air Lines Incorporated

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six commercial airliners in the past four days have had their cockpits illuminated by laser beams while attempting to land, a government official told CNN Wednesday.

The incidents have happened "all over the place" and in "kind of odd places," the official said without elaborating.

None of the flights was affected.

The government official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear whether this week's incidents were the result of "kids who got a laser light for Christmas" or whether there is "some deliberate attempt to target aircraft."

The cockpit of a Continental Airlines 737 was illuminated by a laser Monday as it approached Cleveland, authorities said.

FBI spokesman Bob Hawk said the light, which shined into the cockpit at around 8 p.m., came from a suburb about 15 miles from the airport.

The FBI said no harm was done and the light did not affect the plane's landing.

On November 22, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent an intelligence bulletin to police agencies to alert them that terrorist groups have shown an interest in using laser beams to try to bring down airliners.

"Terrorist groups overseas have expressed interest in using these devices against human sight," the bulletin said. "The U.S. intelligence community has no specific or credible evidence that terrorists intend to use lasers to target pilots in the homeland."

The bulletin said lasers were not a proven method of attacking aircraft but that they could lead to a crash.

"In certain circumstances, if laser weapons adversely affect the eyesight of both pilot and co-pilot during a non-instrument approach, there is a risk of airliner crash," the bulletin said.

It is against federal law to intentionally shine a laser beam at a commercial airline flight.

In September, a Delta Air Lines pilot reported damage to his retina from a laser beam during a landing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

A report for the FAA in June 2004 examined the effect of laser beams on pilots. Of 34 pilots who were exposed to lasers during simulated flights, 67 percent experienced adverse visual effects at even the lowest level of laser exposure. Two high exposure levels resulted in significantly greater performance difficulties and nine aborted landings.

"The potential for an aviation accident definitely exists," said the report.

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