The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it was reviewing a FedEx proposal that would allow the company to install laser-based missile defense systems on its Airbus A321-200 aircraft.
FedEx Corp filed for approval in October 2019 to use a feature that radiates infrared laser energy outside the aircraft as a countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles, the FAA announced in a document.
The installation of these missiles would allow the parcel delivery company to fly in otherwise constrained airspaces.
The FAA noted that FedEx should receive special approval, as commercial cargo planes are not typically designed to carry and fire missiles.
The agency said it is still reviewing the proposal and will consider public comments on the missile installation’s approval.
The aviation industry and several governments have struggled for decades with the threat to aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADs, with some using infrared systems to attack an aircraft’s engines.
FedEx has a proposal reviewed by the FAA after they requested the installation of laser-based missiles on its cargo planes to combat heat-seeking missiles
Man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, are considered a threat to flying aircraft, especially in restricted areas
“In recent years, civilian aircraft have been shelled by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) in several incidents abroad,” the FAA documents state.
“This has led several companies to design and adapt systems, such as a laser-based missile defense system for installation on civilian aircraft, to protect those aircraft from heat-seeking missiles.
“The FedEx missile defense system sends infrared laser energy to an incoming missile in an attempt to interrupt the missile’s tracking of the aircraft’s heat.”
The FAA proposed conditions before considering approving the system and including security measures.
As part of these terms and conditions, the laser device must have measures in place to prevent accidental activation on the ground.
The device must also not cause damage to the aircraft, including others, and must not injure or injure other persons during the flight.
In addition, the FAA requests safety and maintenance information about employees using the system, as well as instructions for the airworthiness of the craft and for when it will be active.
“Infrared laser energy can pose a danger to people on the plane, on the ground and in other aircraft,” the agency added. ‘The risk is greater because infrared light is invisible to the human eye.
‘Human exposure to infrared laser energy can cause eye and skin damage and impair a flight crew’s ability to fly the aircraft.
“Infrared laser energy can also affect other aircraft, both in the air and on the ground, and property, such as fuel trucks and airport equipment, in a way that adversely affects aviation safety.”
In 2008, a US government trial of civil aircraft anti-missile technology installed Northrop Grumman’s Guardian countermeasures system on some commercial cargo flights, while BAE Systems said it had installed its JetEye system on an American Airlines aircraft.
Other aircraft that regularly fly in restricted areas have implemented the use of missiles as a method of safety.
Since the 1970s, more than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPAD
Foreign airlines such as El Al of Israel, for example, had missiles installed on their planes as early as 2004.
The UC-25 plane, or Air Force One, designed to carry the US president, has taken countermeasures to evade incoming missiles.
More than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADs since the 1970s, according to the United States Department of State.
Efforts to combat the threat accelerated after two missiles narrowly missed an Arkia Israeli Airlines Boeing 757 passenger plane on takeoff from Mombasa airport in November 2002. Cargo planes have also been targeted.
An Airbus A300 freighter flown by DHL in 2003 was damaged by MANPADs and forced to make an emergency landing in Baghdad.
A more recent incident involved Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020, which killed 176 passengers after a missile hit the plane while leaving Tehran.