Laser beam renders airline pilot unable to fly plane
A Virgin Atlantic flight bound for New York was forced to return to London Heathrow airport on Sunday after a "laser beam incident", the British airline said.
In a statement Virgin Atlantic confirmed that it had returned flight VS025 to London Heathrow airport as a precautionary measure shortly after take-off.
The airline said one of its pilots become ill following the incident.
It said it was working with authorities to identify the source of the laser beam, which media reports said had been shone into the cockpit from the ground.
"The safety of our crew and customers is our top priority and we apologize for any inconvenience to those onboard," the airline said.
Hand-held lasers shone at aircraft landing or departing airports has become a significant safety concern in Europe.
Between 2009 and June 2015 8,998 incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Topping the list for the first six months of last year was Heathrow with 48 incidents.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) says a laser can result in temporary vision loss associated with flash blindness and can render one or both pilots incapable of safely operating the aircraft.
“This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength,” the association said in a press release. “We repeat our call to the government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them. This incident shows why this is becoming more and more urgent.”