By David Shepardson and Tim Hepher
WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Friday it is proposing conditions that would allow FedEx to install a laser-based missile-defense on Airbus A321-200 airplanes.
Delivery company FedEx Corp in October 2019 applied for approval to use a feature that emits infrared laser energy outside the aircraft as a countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles, the FAA disclosed in a document.
A FedEx spokeswoman declined immediate comment about whether it is still pursuing approval for the application. FedEx does not currently operate any Airbus 321 planes.
The FAA said it is still reviewing the proposal and will consider public comments. Airbus did not immediately comment.
The airline industry and several governments have been grappling with the threat to airliners from shoulder-fired missiles known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADs, for decades. Some use infrared systems to target an aircraft’s engines.
“The FedEx missile-defense system directs infrared laser energy toward an incoming missile, in an effort to interrupt
the missile’s tracking of the aircraft’s heat,” the FAA document said.
The FAA proposed conditions before it would consider approving the system, including ensuring it will prevent the inadvertent operation while on the ground, including during maintenance.
According to the U.S. State Department, more than 40 civil airplanes have been hit by MANPADs since the 1970s.
Efforts to combat the threat accelerated after two missiles narrowly missed an Arkia Israeli Airlines Boeing 757 passenger jet on take-off from Mombasa airport in November 2002.
Cargo planes have also been targeted.
In 2003, an Airbus A300 freighter flown by DHL was damaged by MANPADs and forced to make an emergency landing in Baghdad.
In 2007 and 2008, FedEx took part in a U.S. government trial of anti-missile technology for civil planes by installing 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 airplane.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Matthew Lewis)