NEWARK, N.J., July 16 (UPI) -- On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced an investigation into reports of green lasers that targeted 11 planes flying over New Jersey.
Most of the victimized planes were headed towards Newark Liberty International Airport. The incidents occurred on Wednesday between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and are part of a growing problem that can prove dangerous for pilots.
Though all the flights landed safely, air traffic controllers had to alter the approach patterns for three United Airlines and two American Airlines flights.
Hand-held lasers that are powerful enough to create high-speed beams that travel for more than a mile can illuminate airplane cockpits and distract or temporarily blind pilots on board. The FBI equates the effect to that of a camera flash going off inside a pitch black car.
The trend of individuals that aim and fire high-powered, handheld lasers at planes is increasing, and 2,700 "lasing" events have been reported this year. To that end, authorities have distributed literature informing the public of the dangers of the trend and offering cash rewards for those with information that may lead to an arrest.
"Lasing" was made a crime in 2012, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if an individual is convicted of that crime. Additionally, the FAA retains the authority to levy an additional $11,000 civil penalty.
Two arrests have already been made; one took place in California in 2014 when a man pointed a laser beam at a police helicopter and another occurred when an individual confessed to having pointed lasers at planes departing from La Guardia Airport in New York.