On November 21, 2013, the Tuscon Police Department hosted its annual Flight Safety Event at the Universal Avionics Hangar at Tuscon International Airport. More than 180 pilots, air crews, and agency personnel from all over Arizona attended, including members of law enforcement, military, border patrol, medical flights, and the forest service attended the event. Featured speakers included Jay Hopkins, President and Founder of Error Prevention Institute (EPI) and Agent Nowak, FBI, who spoke about the dangers of laser strikes.
"We started doing this event 12 years ago," says event organizer Sgt. Garry Arnold, Tuscon PD. "Before that, the helicopter and aircraft community worked together in same airspace, but had never formally sat down together to discuss methods of increasing safety in the air. This event brings the flight community together and teaches us how to work together in the same environment more safely, with better communication. Sponsors, such as Vislink, help contribute to the success of the event."
Phoenix and Tuscon are the number 1 and 3 targeted areas for laser strikes in the nation, respectively. Laser strikes pose a danger to not just pilots, some of whom experience significant eye injuries, but also to passengers, ground crews, and the general public over which these craft are being flown. More than 3,000 incidents have been reported to the FAA this year already, an increase of 17% over last year.
Agent Nowak gave specific instructions on what to do if a pilot is hit by a laser strike, the most important of which is to report the incident to air traffic control, which informs the police department. The incident is then logged on the FAA website, and the public is encouraged to send in tips.
"Oftentimes, Tuscon PD will send our helicopter out to the area the strike was reported to try to draw a strike. About 80% of the time, we are able to locate the perpetrator, using all the assets available in the helicopter, such as night vision goggles, FLIR, and downlink and this leads to an arrest," says Arnold.
The event also featured Jay Hopkins, who used his experience as a pilot and a BA in Social Psychology to identify the most common errors made on the job, which often lead to accidents. Jay provides guidance and training on preventing human error to flight departments and emergency personnel across the country. His tips and tricks are well known, but often overlooked, and include getting enough rest, understanding the task before beginning it, and slowing down and taking a few extra minutes to accomplish a task.
Vislink was proud to sponsor the event, and was represented by Christopher Gibbons, Business Development Manager, Vislink Surveillance. Gibbons stated, "Vislink has had an excellent relationship with both the Tuscon and Phoenix Police Departments for many years, and we are pleased to support events such as this, which promote and enhance interagency cooperation and safety."