FedEx Planes’ Missile-Deflecting Lasers Poised for FAA Sign-Off

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to allow FedEx Corp. to install infrared lasers outside its aircraft to defend against missiles.

FedEx’s technology directs laser energy at a missile to stop it from tracking the aircraft’s heat, according to a notice set to publish in the Federal Register on Tuesday. The FAA is seeking comments over the next 45 days on its proposal to approve FedEx’s application, with conditions.

The proposal comes after multiple occasions in recent years overseas where civilian planes were fired at by man-portable air defense systems, which are surface-to-air missiles, according to the FAA. Companies have responded by designing systems to protect against them.

FedEx applied for a certificate in 2019 to install a laser-based missile-defense system on its Airbus SE Model A321-200 airplane.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. previously completed testing on an anti-missile defense system for commercial airliners, including FedEx, in the mid-2000s. The FAA, FedEx, and Northrop Grumman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FAA proposes several special conditions for approving the lasers, including that the system must have the ability to identify foreseeable failure modes and be designed so that it doesn’t damage the airplane or another aircraft when in use. If the FAA approves the application, FedEx would also need approval to operate the system.

FedEx has been focused on transportation safety in recent years. The company said last year that it plans to spend more than $100 million to improve the safety of its delivery vans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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