radar images
© Unknown
FedEx is looking to add laser technology to some cargo planes that would counter incoming heat-seeking missiles.

The company asked for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to equip some of its cargo planes with a missile defense system that would "emit infrared laser energy" outside of the aircraft as a "countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles," according to a public notice filed with the Federal Register. The filing states:
"In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). This has led several companies to design and adapt systems like a laser-based missile-defense system for installation on civilian aircraft."
One of FedEx's competitors, DHL, was the victim of such an incident in 2003 when one of its cargo jets was hit by a missile after taking off in Baghdad. The crew was unharmed, according to CNN.
Soldier with manpad
© USAF/TSgt Maylll
Soldier with manpad

The proposal also talks about potential safety concerns, as infrared laser energy could be hazardous to people in the aircraft, on the ground, or in another aircraft. Infrared laser energy is also invisible to the naked eye, increasing the risks.

To address concerns, the FAA listed several conditions, including requiring that the design does not allow for "inadvertent operation of the system" while the plane is on the ground, including during maintenance.

FedEx proposed to install the system on the Airbus A321-200 and would require the FAA's approval to move forward. The FAA filing says the proposal will be subject to a 45-day public comment period.