'Epidemic level' of laser attacks directed at planes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An increase in the number of brazen laser attacks on planes in the United States has reached an "epidemic level."

According to an FBI blog post, the number of incidents is projected to reach 3,700 by the end of the year, compared to just 283 in 2005, a rise of more than 1,100%. Last year, there were 3,592 reported laser incidents, the FAA said.

The FBI cited the Internet as a source for cheap, easy to purchase hand-held gadgets about the size of fountain pens which have become more powerful in recent years. Lasers costing as little as a dollar can have ranges of 2 miles, the FBI said.

The number of attacks is reaching an "epidemic level," said George Johnson, a supervisory federal air marshal who is a liaison officer with the FBI.

Lasers directed at aircraft can cause temporary blindness to pilots for a few seconds, posing risks during takeoffs and landings.

"Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is dangerous and reckless. Just don't do it," Johnson said.

Those who intentionally aim a laser at an aircraft can be prosecuted under two federal statutes, including a law put into effect this year that makes it punishable by up to five years in prison and $11,000 per violation without the benefit of a warning notice or counseling. An existing law allows punishment up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000.

Michael Huerta, acting FAA administrator, is on record as saying his department will "aggressively" prosecute violators.

Laser incident reports have increased steadily since the FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots.

In 2011, the FBI said those responsible for "lasering" aircraft fall into two general profiles, either minors with no criminal history or older men with criminal records. Human traffickers or drug runners have also sought "to thwart airborne surveillance," according to the FBI.