Pilots approaching the Atlantic City International Airport have reported the Ocean City Boardwalk has been the source of multiple laser beams directed at their aircraft this summer, Ocean City police said.
Ocean City police said the city's Boardwalk was identified as the location of seven incidents, most of them in July.
Overall, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airport received about 10 complaints, police said.
Laser pointers are sold on the Boardwalk and it is legal to buy and own them. But pointing them at aircraft is a crime and could endanger the pilots or passengers on planes and helicopters who may be startled or temporarily blinded.
One incident was reported as potentially coming from atop a Ferris wheel, police Lt. Steven Ang said.
The laser pointers prompted Ocean City police Chief Chad Callahan in late July to send advisories to merchants asking them not to sell the items, Ang said.
"We're asking for their cooperation to not sell those or if they are going to sell any item, sell the ones that aren't the high-power ones," Ang said.
Wes Kazmarck, president of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association, said the police's request was reasonable.
"I think merchants are disappointed but they also understand to negate the issue, it's not that important of an item to have," Kazmarck said.
"As far as I know most of the stores have complied," he said.
Even though police are discouraging the use of these laser pointers, people on the Boardwalk have no trouble getting them.
Behind the counter of the Air Circus, on the 1100 block of the Boardwalk, there were still lasers to be sold, starting at $26.99.
A manager was not available for comment, store employees said. Several other stores also were selling lasers, including a clothing store pointed out by a city police officer.
The laser pointers in question aren't the small, keychain-sized pointers sold at places such as dollar stores. Instead, these more powerful laser pointers are roughly the size of a large pen. They emit a green beam, and they are available in strengths that go up to 50 megawatts.
Use of laser beams reaching aircraft has been on the radar of the Federal Aviation Administration for more than a decade and remains a concern, federal officials said.
Since January, there have been nearly 1,400 laser incidents across the United States, said Arlene Salac, spokeswoman for the FAA.
"It's certainly a dangerous activity. It could blind a pilot and have all kinds of repercussions depending on where the pilot's flying. You can imagine," said Kevin Rehmann, security and operations manager for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the Atlantic City International Airport.
The FAA has long warned of the potential dangers - lasers can distract or startle pilots and create glare, flash blindness or an after-image.
"These effects have the greatest potential to cause an aircraft accident when an aircraft is flying at low altitudes and when pilots are performing critical tasks during landing and take-off," according to the FAA website.
Ocean City police said pointing lasers at a transportation vehicle, such as an aircraft, bus, or train, is at least a disorderly persons offense that can rise to a second-degree crime if bodily injury is involved.
In cases where the person pointing the laser is caught, they can generate much publicity.
In 2006, a Parsippany man received two years probation for shining a hand-held laser into the cockpit of a plane approaching the Teterboro Airport in 2004. The laser disoriented both pilots and caused them a temporary loss of night vision, the U.S. Attorney's Office said at the time.
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