I work with laser daily that have far greater power and focus than the average 5mW laser you can buy in a store.
And this report just makes me sad. Sending a guy to jail for something stupid.
The pilots could never have been blinded (permanently or even for a short while) with laser of these low power unfocused types. Its basically more dangerous to your retina to look into the sun.
The IEC 60601-2-22 for example defines a way to calculate the NOHD http://www.laserpointersafety.com/safetyinfo/safetyinfo/calcs.html
Basically this a method of calculating the chance of damage to the eye, based on distance, divergence of the beam, power and wavelength.
Example:EXAMPLE 1: In the U.S., lasers sold as pointers must be less than 5 mW. A typical divergence is 1 milliradian. What is the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance? The 50/50 injury chance distance?
NOHD (Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance) in feet = (32.8 / 1) * (square root of (0.5 * 5)) = 32.8 * (square root of 2.5) = 32.8 * 1.58 = 51.9 feet
ED50 distance in feet = 51.9 / 3.16 = 16.4 feet
Answer: The Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of a 5 mW laser pointer with 1 mrad divergence is 51.9 feet. The ED50 distance means that if a person is 16.4 feet from the laser and is exposed under laboratory conditions (the laser and eye are fixed relative to each other), there is a 50/50 chance of causing a minimally detectable retinal lesion.
In short, unless the guy was sitting within 16 feet of the plane/helicopter, he has a 50% change of inducing ANY form of damage to the retina.
On the other hand, could the laser pointer pose a distraction to the pilot and the pilot could make a fatal error. Sure, but a ringing cellphone might do the same.