Published: Feb 28, 2011 9:20 PM EST
Updated: Feb 28, 2011 6:21 PM EST

WASHINGTON - People who knowingly aim laser pointers at an aircraft would be committing a federal crime subject to up to five years in prison under legislation the House has passed.

The House bill responds to growing incidents of pilots being distracted or even temporarily blinded and forced to give up control of aircraft because of laser beams.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the number of cases of people pointing lasers at planes and helicopters nearly doubled last year to more than 2,800 as handheld lasers become more affordable and more powerful.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Lungren, says there are also reports of airborne police units aborting crime scene responses due to laser interference. The Senate a month ago approved the same measure as an amendment to an FAA spending bill.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)