A laser light shone on Alitalia plane with Pope Francis on board when it prepared to land in Mexico City International Airport. Flight AZ4000 - which had just come from Havana, Cuba, where Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill - managed to land safely last Friday, in time to kick off the Pope's five-day trip to Mexico. No Pope Francis' Plane crew members or passengers "were injured by the beam," according to Alitalia.
The Vatican said it didn't even know until later about lasers pointed at the aircraft. Still, the incident raised enough concern for Flight AZ4000's Captain to "promptly report" it to the Benito Juarez International Airport's control tower. Alitalia confirmed on Wednesday that Captain Massimiliano Marselli alerted the control tower about what his crew had seen from the air, which the airline called “standard procedure with these type of matters” in a statement.
It's unclear whether the Pope Francis' Plane was specifically targeted. Local media noted that "several other pilots in the area also reported laser strikes”. Laser strikes have become more and more common over the last decade, in part due to the fact handheld lasers have become more common and affordable. According to USA Today the Federal Aviation Administration logged a record total of 7,153 laser strikes in the US in 2015 through December 11.
Laser beams can create flash blindness in pilots and can endanger the flight. "Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is a serious safety risk," one-time FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has said. "Lasers can distract or temporarily blind pilots who are trying to fly safely to their destinations and could compromise the safety of hundreds of passengers." It is so dangerous that the FBI is now offering a $10,000 reward for information involving people who shine lasers at planes. In the US, people caught pointing a laser at a plane can face up to 20 years in prison or a $25,000 fine.