Delivery giant FedEx is asking federal regulators for permission to install countermeasures in its cargo jets designed to thwart missile attacks, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.
“In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS),” FedEx says in the public notice. “This has led several companies to design and adapt systems like a laser-based missile-defense system for installation on civilian aircraft, to protect those aircraft against heat-seeking missiles.”
FedEx adds that it wants to install a missile-defense system that “directs infrared laser energy toward an incoming missile, in an effort to interrupt the missile’s tracking of the aircraft’s heat.”
The company notes that infrared laser energy can pose a hazard to people on the aircraft, on the ground, or on other aircraft, and it proposes a series of steps to mitigate that danger. The system would have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
FedEx says it wants to install the system in the Airbus A321-200 airplane, a model it does not yet fly as part of its fleet of more than 650 aircraft. The company did not respond to NBC News requests for comment.
Anti-missile systems have been installed in U.S. commercial aircraft as far back as 2008. The Israeli passenger carrier El Al introduced a missile defense system in 2004.
Hundreds of people were killed in two high-profile missile attacks on aircraft in recent years — attacks that appear to have stemmed from misidentifications.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 from Tehran to Kyiv was shot down shortly after takeoff by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which later said it mistook the plane for a cruise missile.
A Malaysia Airlines passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine, in what international inquiries concluded was a botched operation by Russian-backed separatists.
In 2003, a DHL cargo jet was hit by a missile after taking off in Baghdad, but the three person crew was able to land the plane safely.
Jay Blackman and Courtney Kube contributed.