Pilots are calling for lasers to be classified as "offensive weapons", after a Virgin Atlantic pilot was forced to make a detour after being targeted by one mid-air. The flight to New York was grounded overnight on 14 February, after it was forced to return to London Heathrow after the co-pilot was taken ill following a laser attack.

Virgin described the move as a "precautionary measure due to a laser beam incident". Now, the British Airline Pilots Association are calling for a ban on lasers, saying they should be classified in a similar way to some weapons.

"It is absolutely necessary that the government makes these lasers an offensive weapon, they are just the same as carrying a knife," said Cpt. David Smith from the organisation.

"There is no practical application that a member of the public can use these lasers for. At the moment the legislation is totally inadequate, you have to be able to find the person shining it at the aircraft at the time to be able to convict them and that's almost impossible to do. The only way to deal with this is to make carrying a laser an offensive weapon."

He added, "Balpa's biggest fear from these laser attacks is it's going to happen right at the critical moment on landing, both pilots could be blinded and that aircraft could end up off the runway with injuries not only to the crew but the passengers. Obviously that would be a very serious incident."

The Virgin plane was forced to divert approximately an hour into the flight, shortly after passing the west coast of Ireland. Passengers were put up in a hotel overnight and allocated alternative flights for the next day.

An investigation into where the laser came from is currently underway. According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, nearly 9,000 laser incidents were reported across the country between January 2009 and June 2015.