FedEx seeks FAA approval to install anti-missile lasers on jet aircraft

  • FedEx is seeking to install anti-missile lasers on some of its jets, according to a proposal it has sent to the FAA.
  • The request, submitted for government approval back in 2019, is atypical for commercial and civil aircraft.
  • The FAA will hear public comments for 45 days before making its decision to allow FedEx to adapt the technology.

FedEx seeks to equip some cargo aircraft with a unique protection measure – anti-missile laser technology.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) said in an application Friday that it is currently reviewing a request from FedEx to add infrared laser technology to some aircraft. The technology is designed to project a laser outside the aircraft that counteracts and interferes with a missile’s heat search capability.

“In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft have been shelled by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS),” the FAA document reads. “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 these aircraft from heat-seeking missiles.”

In 2003, a ground-to-air missile hit the left wing of an Airbus A330 operating for DHL, just after take-off from Baghdad, Iraq, but the crew was able to escape unharmed. In 2014, a missile attack took a plane from Malaysia Airlines over Ukraine, killing 298 passengers.

According to the application, the technology will be adapted to the Airbus Model A321-200 – a twin-engine transport jet with room for 220 passengers. FedEx operates the world’s largest cargo fleet with more than 650 aircraft in total, but it does not currently own or operate any A321-200 aircraft.

FedEx did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

The feature, which the FAA document described as “new” and “unusual”, is typically not seen on non-military aircraft. The FAA’s current design standards are not capable of meeting this technology, the application also said, and the agency has no basis for deciding whether the system will work as intended.

“Infrared laser energy can pose a danger to people on the plane, on the ground and another plane,” it also said in the case, citing several negative impacts on flight personnel and airport equipment. “The risk is high because infrared light is invisible to the human eye.”

Although the FAA and the Department of Transportation announced the application on Friday, the proposal was originally submitted by FedEx in October 2019.

“With the changes enabled [the aircraft]”The FAA keeps a close eye on everything that is done to a jet that may affect its flight characteristics,” said Richard Aboulafia, CEO of Aerospace consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory.

FedEx could look at this as a one-time experiment, buy an A321 and test the technology to see if it wants to add it to more of the company’s fleet, Aboulafia told Insider. The company could also plan to buy some A321 aircraft as part of a civilian reserve aircraft fleet that the military could use in enemy territories, he added.

The U.S. government and other U.S. civilian airlines have been considering adding their similar countermeasures to civilian flights for nearly two decades, though high costs and low risk of domestic missile attacks eventually deterred them.

Aviation regulators will spend 45 days hearing public comments that they approve the infrared laser system.

Leave a Comment