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A MAN tried to blind an airline pilot and a police helicopter crew by shining a laser into their cockpits.

Paul Bennett used a laser pen to try to dazzle the pilot of an Easyjet flight on its final approach into Gatwick from Amsterdam at 9.35pm on October 14.

A National Police Air Support helicopter was sent out to hunt down the perpetrator, only for its crew to be targeted by the laser themselves.

Eventually the green beam of light was traced back to King George Avenue in East Grinstead, where a laser was seized.

Bennett, 25, admitted directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the police helicopter.

But he was ordered to pay only £470 in a fine and costs when he appeared at Crawley Magistrates’ Court.

Richard Tooner from the British Airline Pilots Association slammed the fine as “outrageous”.

He added: “It is in no way acceptable. There is no question that an offence of this nature should involve a custodial sentence.”

Earlier this week Crawley MP Henry Smith called for lasers to be reclassified as an offensive weapon.

He said hundreds of lives were being put at risk by people maliciously shining the pens in the eyes of pilots operating from Gatwick.

He said: “I’m disappointed that courts have only seen fit to issue a relatively modest fine because I don’t think that is much of a deterrent to stop other people using laser pens.

“It’s an extremely serious |offence, endangering potentially hundreds of lives in the air and on the ground.”

Inspector Mark Callaghan, of Sussex Police, said: “Directing laser devices towards aircraft in flight to dazzle or distract the pilot is a criminal offence as it represents a considerable threat to the lives of the people on board and on the ground.

“This is just one of a number of successful prosecutions the police has brought to court. Significant sanctions have been imposed in some cases, including jail terms.

“These are not toys and we would appeal to parents to be aware of the dangers lasers pose and discourage their children from using them.”

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reports that there were 1910 reports of laser incidents against aircraft in 2011 in the UK.

During the same period in Sussex there were 30 reported incidents against aircraft approaching Gatwick.