Are Laser Pointers Illegal in NSW?

Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

A woman from western Sydney, who resides alone with her three cats, has been charged after allegedly aiming a laser pointer at a PolAir aircraft that flew over her home in the middle of the night.

According to NSW Police, around 11:30pm on Tuesday 15 February 2022, PolAir 1 was flying over Kingswood when “a green laser was pointed into the fixed-wing aircraft a number of times”.

Police allege the laser beam interfered with the crew, in particular the pilot, and jeopardised their safety.

The incident was promptly investigated, and within a short time, officers attached to Nepean Police Area Command attended a unit on Joseph Street, Kingswood, where a 27-year-old woman was spoken to about the matter.

Following inquiries, police arrested the woman and a laser pointer was seized from her property.

The woman was taken to St Marys Police Station where she was charged with prejudicing the safe operation of a Division 3 aircraft.

In addition, she was charged with do act to threaten safety of aircraft/persons and possess or use a prohibited weapon without permit.

The woman was refused bail and given a court attendance notice for Penrith Local Court.

A laser pointer is a hand-held battery-operated device that is designed to produce a dazzling green laser beam for the purposes of aiming, targeting or pointing. 

Why Laser Pointers are So Dangerous to Police Aircraft…

When police aircraft are in operation, often in the hunt for a wanted suspect or tracing pursuits on the ground, the dazzling beam of a laser pointer can cause significant distraction and damage.

Although the beam of light may appear minor, when directly pointed at an aircraft – and in particular at a pilot’s eye – its piercing glare has the potential to blind and even disorient them.

This can then cause loss of control, and potentially loss of life.

Moreover, it is not uncommon for the windows of an aircraft cockpit to magnify the laser light, which in turn can seriously harm others on board.

In NSW, the irresponsible use of laser pointers has, in recent years, come into the spotlight after police validated a series of brazen late-night attacks on a variety of different aircraft across Sydney skies.

The vast majority of these were aimed at police helicopters and other aircraft.

Against the problem escalating, a new law was put in place in 2018 by the government which now makes it an offence for anyone in NSW to have a laser pointer in their custody in a public place or to use a laser pointer in a public place without a reasonable excuse. 

Specifically, this is in accordance with section 11FA of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW)which prescribes a maximum penalty of $5,500, or two years in jail, or both, for any such offence. 

Indeed, people require laser pointers for legitimate reasons, while some in certain professions – such as builders, teachers and astronomers who use laser pointers in their jobs – must carry them.

Nonetheless, if a NSW police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that you are in possession of a laser pointer in a public place and do not have a reasonable excuse, they have the power to search you, seize the laser pointer, and pursue legal action.

Are Laser Pointers Illegal in NSW?

A laser pointer or any other article that’s a hand-held battery-operated device with a power output of over one milliwatt, designed or adapted to emit a laser beam, which can be used for purposes of aiming or targeting or pointing is classified as a “prohibited weapon” in NSW making it illegal to carry or use unless you hold a valid weapons permit.

Carrying a laser pointer without an authorised permit carries up to 14 years imprisonment prescribed by section 7Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 (NSW).

To get a weapons permit, you must fall within any of the three categories of permit including general, weapons dealer or theatrical weapons armourer. Each category permits you to have and use certain types of prohibited weapons.

The weapons Act also prescribed penalties of up to 5 years jail for purchasing a laser pointer without an authorised permit to possess one.

Click here for more on weapons licencing laws in Australia.

If the laser pointer does not fall within the definition of a “prohibited weapon” because it is not over 1 milliwatt, then section 11FA Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) prescribes penalties of up to 2 years imprisonment and/or $5,500 fine for having or using a laser pointer in a public place without a reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse may include for the lawful pursuit of a person’s occupation, education, training or hobby.

In Australia, it is also a criminal offence to prejudice the safe operation of a Division 3 aircraft.

The law on this is outlined in section 19 of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 (Cth).

Section 19 states that a person must not do anything capable of prejudicing the safe operation of a Division 3 aircraft with the intention of prejudicing the safe operation of the aircraft.

The penalty in place for a breach of this law is 20 years in jail.

A Division 3 aircraft means:

  • an Australian aircraft (other than a Commonwealth aircraft or a defence aircraft) that is mainly used for the purpose of any of the following flights, or is engaged, or is intended or likely to be engaged, in such a flight:
    • a prescribed flight;
    • flight between a part of Australia and a place outside of Australia;
    • a flight wholly outside Australia; or
  • a Commonwealth aircraft; or
  • a defence aircraft; or
  • a foreign aircraft that is in Australia; or
  • a foreign aircraft that is outside Australia while engaged in a flight that started in Australia or that was, when the flight started, intended to end in Australia. 

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