CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The number of aircraft that are hit by a laser is on the rise across the United States, a WBTV/Raycom Media investigation has found.
Records from the Federal Aviation Administration show the number of strikes on aircraft has grown steadily across the country but saw a big jump last year.
Between 2011 and 2013, the average number of strikes was 3,700. But that number more than doubled in 2014 to 7,700.
The problems of people on the ground pointing lasers at aircraft is something federal law enforcement takes very seriously.
"A lot of times its young people who want to pull a prank and be funny," explained Paul Daymond, a spokesman with the FBI's Birmingham, Al division.
A Charlotte-area teenager learned that the hard way.
Eighteen-year-old Smith Hayden Brundage was charged with two counts of flashing a laser at police aircraft stemming from an incident in August 2014.
"It's not funny, it's a felony," Daymond said.
Our review found Charlotte led the nation in the number of reported laser strikes between 2011 and 2014 with 193 reported strikes.
Year-over-year, the rate of laser strikes is up. In 2010, pilots in Charlotte reported 12 laser strikes. That number rose to 34 in 2014.
"It is very distracting," said Chuck Dyer, a pilot and chairman of the Airline Pilots Association. "You're trying to focus on what you're doing yet you've got this going on."
Narratives included with incident reports of laser strikes supplied by the FAA in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request show some pilots reported injuries following a laser strike.
INTERACTIVE: FAA records more than 3,000 laser incidents in 2014
Many lasers are relative inexpensive but can travel thousands of feet in the air. Laser beams grow as they travel.
"Thirty-nine pilots are out with after-effect injuries," Dyer said. "We've had one pilot here that I'm aware of that has been out for some length of time from having his retina burned in a laser event."