FedEx Asks FAA To Let It Install Anti-Missile Lasers On Its Cargo Planes

A single person can target a plane using a heat-seeking missile with the right military equipment. FedEx wants to install a laser-based, anti-missile defense system on its cargo planes in order to protect them from missiles. FedEx's request to the FAA didn't come completely out of left field. In 2008, the company worked with the company to test its anti-missile laser-based defense systems on 12 of the shipping company's cargo planes. Although no commercial orders had been placed at the time, a company spokesman said that the system was ready to be deployed on civilian aircraft. That may have changed.

FedEx's application to the FAA to allow it to install and use anti-missile systems on its Airbus Model A321-200 cargo planes doesn't specifically mention the hardware that is being proposed by another company, so the shipping company could now be working with another company. The application document states that "civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems" which are nearly impossible to detect.

The biggest problem with FedEx's application is that the FAA's design standards for transport category airplanes did not envision that a design feature could project a laser beam outside the airplane. The defense system is being considered a "novel or unusual design feature" and will be subjected to several special safety regulations given how dangerous the intense IR light can be to the skin and eyes of people on the aircraft, on the ground, and on other aircraft. The ability to completely disabling the system while the airplane is on the ground will be included in the regulations. They require extensive markings, labels, warnings, and documentation for everyone from maintenance staff to ground crew, to pilots, warning them of the laser's class and risks, including an addendum to the flight manual explaining the complete use of the system.