Trace gas sensing and analysis by Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy (TDLAS) has become a robust and reliable technology accepted for industrial process monitoring and control, quality assurance, environmental sensing, plant safety, and infrastructure security. Sensors incorporating well-packaged wavelength-stabilized near-infrared (1.2 to 2.0 μm) laser sources sense over a dozen toxic or industrially-important gases. A large emerging application for TDLAS is standoff sensing of gas leaks, e.g. from natural gas pipelines. The Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD), a handheld standoff TDLAS leak survey tool that we developed, is replacing traditional leak detection tools that must be physically immersed within a leak to detect it. Employing a 10 mW 1.6 micron DFB laser, the RMLD illuminates a non-cooperative topographic surface, up to 30 m distant, and analyzes returned scattered light to deduce the presence of excess methane. The eye-safe, battery-powered, 6-pound handheld RMLD enhances walking pipeline survey rates by more than 30%. When combined with a spinning or rastering mirror, the RMLD serves as a platform for mobile leak mapping systems. Also, to enable high-altitude surveying and provide aerial disaster response, we are extending the standoff range to 3000 m by adding an EDFA to the laser transmitter.© (2005) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.