In airports and harbors. lasers shine the way

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Lasers have an advantage over conventional light sources: They can be directed in a fine line, even over great distances. An Alaska company that has received much attention in recent years for its development of a hand-held emergency laser pointer has developed lasers for use in airports and harbors to assist approaches in darkness or reduced visibility. “Airport lighting with lasers has won the approval from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to move to the final certification process,” said Jim O’Meara, president of the Anchorage-based Greatland Laser. “In the next few months, Greatland Laser will install the first permanent laser illuminators on several airports in Alaska. These same devices will move to the waterways to address similar problems and increase the margin of safety for commercial and recreational traffic.”

Laser light is projected in a narrow plane, the source of light acting as the apex of a long, slender triangle, with an angle of approximately 5°, that projects down so that a line is visible across the water or airport landing surface. “In mist or fog, the laser’s functionality is actually increased because it reflects off the water particles. We have tested lasers with the Coast Guard and envision lasers being of great service for mariners approaching harbors in darkness — or even in daylight hours. I think it would be especially helpful to have a laser mounted on the center of a bridge span, which would guide a ship right up the center of the channel,” O’Meara said.

The adjacent image shows a laser projecting across the harbor of Seward, Alaska — a distance of one-quarter mile. Streetlights and other background lights appear to be pointing directly at the camera, yet the laser remains focused on its plane. O’Meara, who, besides running a laser company, is an active airplane pilot, said that lasers are set up on runways or in ports to project toward an approaching airplane or ship. This makes the light more visible to the pilot or mariner. While laser lines are visible at great distances, curvature of the earth’s surface necessitates elevating the laser source so that the line does not leave the surface of the water or land.

O’Meara said his company is focused on supplying products to the airline industry and has no current plans to release laser products, other than the hand-held rescue light, to the marine market. “You can’t just start selling portable lasers to the open market; you really have to trust the people who are going to install them, whether they’re marking a runway or a harbor approach,” O’Meara said. “Otherwise, you can imagine a return to the days of people luring ships onto the rocks. Sure, come right this way!”

If you can’t wait for the days when lasers are guiding ships into and out of every port in the nation, visit O’Meara in Alaska this coming summer: “We’ll be testing the lasers with the Coast Guard in the harbor at Kodiak.”

By Ocean Navigator