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Sat, Jan 05, 2008

American Airlines To Outfit Three 767s With Anti-Missile Systems

Passenger-Carrying Test Flights Will Begin This Spring

If you're booked on an American Airlines transcontinental flight this year, you might take some comfort in knowing the jet you'll be flying on could be equipped with a system to thwart attacks from shoulder-fired missiles.

The Department of Homeland Security signed a $29 million contract with BAE Systems December 21, calling for tests to be conducted with domestic aircraft equipped with the laser-based JETEYE defense system.

BAE is working with American to outfit three of its Boeing 767-200s, used on transcons between New York and Los Angeles, with JETEYE -- which is designed to jam the guidance systems of man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS.

The test program, slated to begin in March or April, will mark the first time the countermeasures system will be tested on aircraft carrying passengers. Previous tests have been conducted using systems mounted to cargo planes, and empty test aircraft.

"It's the ultimate consumer use of the equipment," said Burt Keirstead, director of commercial aircraft protection at BAE Systems, to USA Today.

The system's jamming abilities will not be evaluated during the test phase -- no projectiles will be launched at the planes (everyone involved stresses that point -- Ed.) -- but rather the system's durability and reliability in scheduled passenger airline service, as well as what impact the belly-mounted system will have on fuel consumption.

There are also other economic considerations, not the least of which is JETEYE's estimated $500,000-to-$1 million pricetag, per plane. The cost to maintain the system is also unknown.

"If this is going to break down every other month vs. every fifth year, obviously that's a big, big difference," said Jim Tuttle, with Homeland Security's Science and Technology division.

Though it agreed to participate in the program, American is "philosophically opposed" to anti-missile technology on commercial aircraft, said spokesman John Hotard -- adding the carrier's going along with it in case Congress later mandates such systems on domestic airliners.

"When you look at the cost benefit, it would be an extremely expensive proposition, and in the end, is it really going to work?" Hotard said.



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