Business

Belfast firm's link in tackling scourge of laser attacks on aircraft

The iXon ultra camera from Andor in Belfast, which is part of the sensor system that can accurately identify the origin of laser strikes on aircraft
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A WEST Belfast company is at the forefront of a solution to tackle the growing problem of lasers being purposely aimed at airline pilots.

Scientific camera maker Andor, which employs more than 250 people at Springvale Business Park, has contributed to the creation of a prototype device which can detect the source of laser beam attacks on aircraft, pinpoint their location and inform the relevant law enforcement agencies.

Laser beam strikes on aircraft have long been a concern for aviation authorities across the world.

Indeed earlier this year pilots flying into Belfast International Airport were targeted with laser pens five times in just eight days, which authorities described as "irresponsible and a potential threat to life".

And in the last 48 hours, five planes have been targeted as they flew in to land at Glasgow Airport in Scotland.

As well as the danger posed to human life, where a pilot potentially loses visibility of the approaching runway, the aiming of lasers at aircraft is illegal in many countries, with the threat of prosecution for those found guilty of the offence.

Now a team from MIT Lincoln Laboratory have been working on a ground-based solution that may provide an answer to this problem, helping to quickly identify the individuals involved and bring them to justice.

The Laser Aircraft Strike Suppression Optical System (LASSOS), which features Andor’s highly sensitive iXon EMCCD cameras, is a ground-based sensor system that can accurately identify the origin of the strike and subsequently enable local law-enforcement to launch a rapid and targeted response.

When a laser is pointed into the sky, a small fraction of the light is scattered by molecules and aerosols in the air which forms a residual streak in the laser's path.

The system works by using the Belfast-made EMCCD cameras to image the scattered light from different viewpoints, providing enough data to digitally reconstruct the laser streak in three dimensions.

With the calculated coordinates of the laser’s origin, the team can instantly pinpoint the precise location of the strike on Google Earth for the response teams to engage and apprehend.

 

Although still in prototype, the LASSOS team believe the technology will “significantly increase laser strike origin detection and perpetrator apprehension”.

Dr Andrew Dennis, Andor's director of product management, said “We're excited to be a small part of this critical project to make the skies safer, and we look forward to further supporting the excellent Lincoln Laboratory team and wish them success as they aim to bring this system into production.”

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