WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon said Monday it will use lasers to warn pilots when they've flown into restricted airspace near the Capitol, even though federal officials have warned that terrorists might use the beams of light to blind pilots as they approach airports.
There have been more than 100 incidents nationwide since November in which laser beams have been flashed into cockpits. The aircraft all landed safely, but federal aviation officials are concerned that a laser could be used to blind pilots and cause a crash.
The FBI has investigated many of the incidents, and last month a New Jersey man was indicted for allegedly pointing a powerful green laser beam at a small passenger jet.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said its laser warning system will start in 30 to 45 days. The low-intensity lights are less powerful than the ones that prompted warnings, and tests have shown they are safe for the eyes, according to NORAD.
NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said the laser-based warning system someday could replace fighter jets as a way to warn pilots to stay away from the Capitol and the White House.
Hundreds of small private planes have strayed into the restricted airspace in Washington, a 15-'-mile radius around the Washington Monument.
In some cases, NORAD has had to divert or scramble fighter jets to escort them away from the area at a cost of $30,000 to $50,000 each time, Kucharek said.
The challenge for NORAD will be to educate pilots that the red-red-green flashing laser beams mean they're flying in restricted airspace.
The Federal Aviation Administration will send a special notice to pilots describing the lights and what to do if they see them. Pilots who fly around the nation's capital will be briefed about the system Thursday.
The group representing private pilots, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, hasn't seen the new warning system but is wary.
''Any system like this must be absolutely unequivocally safe for the pilots,'' AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy said. ''It cannot cause eye damage, which they say it does not, and it cannot be so distracting that a pilot would lose situational awareness.''