Blinded by the Light

New Holiday Laser Light Decorations Raise Concerns for Pilots

You’ve probably seen the latest holiday-lighting decorating trend if you’ve driven around any residential neighborhood. This simple laser spotlight projects hundreds of brightly colored laser lights all over the exterior of a home. Lighting your home can now be done in a snap, which is why it’s taken the holiday decorating market by storm.

The device incorporates a number of basic principles of laser light technology to create the scatter effect. It starts off with one or two monochromatic laser lights, meaning that the laser light is just one color and therefore at one wavelength. Then using a device called diffraction grating, the laser light passes through super tiny lines in the grating. This re-directs the light and scatters the beams, creating tons of tiny laser dots and voilà! You have an instant laser show on your home.

Recently, its popularity has been a bit shadowed lately, by critics who have raised a few interesting points. The first is that its simple setup and uncomplicated design, is too easy, and the “lazy man’s” answer to holiday lighting. While practicality, simplicity, and ingenuity might not necessarily be a valid reason to criticize holiday laser based decorations, a second point raised by pilots and the FAA may be a more relevant concern that needs to be considered.

Improper setup of the lasers has been playing havoc with pilots, attempting to land and fly commercial, personal and other aircraft. In most states, it’s illegal to purposefully point a laser pointer toward or in the direction of a landing plane because once a laser pointer enters the cockpit of a plane, it reflects off of the glass and dials and causes temporary blindness in pilots. If the holiday laser decorations are pointed just a hair too high, top rays will not hit the roof of the house and continue out into space.

While distributors of holiday laser decorations do issue warnings about shining them at planes and strict setup instructions, for many holiday decorators the risks to pilots don’t even cross their minds. Those who aren’t careful have been improperly setting up the lasers which have then been disrupting the sight of pilots from distances up to 22 miles away.

Law enforcement, the FAA, and the laser manufacturers have been reiterating these warnings, but it remains to be seen if the holiday laser decorations will remain legal for use, especially in areas near airports.

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