WASHINGTON, June 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says it is increasing the penalties for people caught shining laser beams at commercial planes.
In 2010 the FAA received 2,836 reports of planes being hit with lasers, almost twice the 2009 total and 10 times as many as 2005.
Responding to the sharp increase in the number of such incidents, the FAA says it will consider someone shining a laser at an aircraft as "interfering" with a flight crew under same statute used to protect pilots and flight attendants from hijackers, USA Today reported Tuesday.
"Our top priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to take tough action against anyone who threatens the safety of our passengers, pilots and air transportation system."
Laser pointers can cause a distracting flash of light in the cockpit from as much as 2 miles away, the FAA said, and at closer ranges can cause short-lived blindness.
While the FAA does not possess the authority to prosecute violators criminally, charges under civil statutes can bring fines up to $11,000.