Missoula man sentenced for pointing laser at airplane on approach to Great Falls airport
GREAT FALLS – A Missoula man who admitted aiming a laser beam at an airplane as it was approaching the Great Falls airport was sentenced today, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said.
Brian John Loven, 42, pleaded guilty on Oct. 28, 2020 to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.
The defendant faced a possible sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The government recommended a sentence within the guideline range of 15 months to 21 months in prison. The court sentenced Loven to three years of probation.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided.
“Mr. Loven’s conduct needlessly threatened the safety of the passengers and crew of a commercial aircraft. It is important for the public to understand that pointing any laser, even a small one, at the cockpit of an aircraft can obscure the pilot’s view and jeopardize the safe operations of the aircraft. Fortunately, the Great Falls incident did not result in any injuries. This office regards such cases as serious matters requiring aggressive prosecution,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Johnson.
In court documents filed in the case, the prosecution said that at about 9:40 p.m. on March 3, 2020, two pilots operating a SkyWest flight reported that on their descent to the Great Falls airport, the plane was hit with a bright green laser that lit up the cockpit. The pilots reported that the incident occurred on the east end of town in the area of Giant Springs State Park.
Cascade County Sheriff’s deputies dispatched to the area located a Jeep driving slowly through the parking lot of Heritage Park, which was closed at the time. Loven was a passenger. The driver told deputies that she was learning how to drive a manual transmission car. While speaking with the driver, deputies noticed a small, black pen-like device sticking out of the center cup holder and asked about the item. The driver said the device was a laser pointer and activated it. The laser pointer projected a green light onto the dashboard.
Deputies interviewed Loven, who admitted to shining the laser at an airplane while it was approaching the airport. Loven explained that he was unaware it was a federal offense to shine a laser at a plane and just wanted to “test out the distance of the laser.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Starnes prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Transportation Security Administration, Cascade County Sheriff’s Office and Airport Security.