The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who aims a laser at aircraft in violation of federal law as part of a new national campaign that launched Tuesday.
The FBI Tampa division, which includes 18 counties in Central and Southwest Florida, saw 102 reported incidents last year of people pointing lasers at aircraft, said Dave Couvertier, special agent and public affairs officer in the division.
There were 328 incidents in Florida and nearly 4,000 reported nationally, he said.
While there have been no known aircraft accidents caused by laser devices, it can cause eye injuries to pilots and danger to passengers, Couvertier said.
"You're basically lighting up the cockpit. It makes it very difficult for pilots to see their instruments and sometimes causes temporary blindness for fractions of a second, if not several seconds," Couvertier said.
It can take 20 to 40 minutes for the effects on eyesight to wear off, and a direct laser hit can cause lasting damage, said Tampa police Chief Pilot Todd Curabba.
The FBI and Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2005 and found a more than 1,100 percent increase in people deliberately pointing handheld lasers at aircraft.
The increase prompted a program that started on Feb. 11 in 12 field offices to raise awareness of the violation. Major cities near those field offices have seen a 19 percent decrease in the number of reported incidents, the FBI said.
To report an incident, call 911 or the FBI Tampa field office at (813) 253-1000.