After the tragic take-down of a Malaysia Airlines flight 17 on Thursday by a surface to air missile, some members of congress have already suggested the implementation of missile defense systems on commercial airliners. However, at least one airline executive has already balked at the notion.
"Some people say planes should be armed with counter devices. That will go absolutely nowhere," Emirates Airlines president Tim Clark told Arabian Business. "If we can't operate aircraft in a free and unencumbered manner without the threat of being taken down, then we shouldn't be operating at all." Tim's right.
The issue has come up before — back in 2003, when a DHL A300 cargo plane was struck on the wing by a shoulder-fired surface to air missile after taking off from Baghdad. The plane's saving grace was that the wing was full of fuel, and no fuel-air vapor was present. The fuel in the wing just leaked out and didn't explode. The pilots lost hydraulic control and limped the plane back to Baghdad using differential thrust. Upon landing, the plane veered off the runway, but the crew survived.
On Friday, U.S. Senator and former NAVY intelligence officer Mark Kirk (R. IL) said:
"They should actively look into mounting active defenses on civil aircraft that are carrying hundreds of people. It's not too technically difficult to add a radar warning system on an aircraft, where a pilot in command could dispense chaff to defeat a radar-guided missile."
Flight Guard SAM Defense System
Bloomberg says the U.S. spent $239 million over the last decade studying whether the U.S. fleet could be upgraded to accommodate missile defense systems. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it would take $43 Billion over 20 years to install this type of system. Bloomberg suggests the best strategy for right now is to avoid war zones.
El Al, the Israeli flag-carrier, is generally viewed as the world's safest airline. They installed countermeasures on their aircraft after a 2003 near-miss from a SAM in Kenya. The automated system, called Flight Guard dispenses flares to deter heat-seeking missiles from striking the aircraft. According to CNN, Flight Guard has a $1 million price tag per plane, but the collateral savings could be priceless.