'Flight Guard' protection system okayed for some civilian planes

Military design for defense against missiles.

Airline passengers are set to become a little better protected, at least against shoulder-fired missiles, as the Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday authorized the use of the Flight Guard self-protection system for civilian flights on Boeing-767 aircraft. The system is to be included on other aircraft soon. Manufactured by Elta, a daughter company of Israel Aircraft Industries which was tendered production rights by the Israeli government, Flight Guard has been finally approved for civilian flights after a lengthy series of exhaustive tests. "The system, which was originally meant for military use, has been adapted to meet civilian needs," said Israel Aircraft Industries CEO Udi Zohar. The system adapted by Elta was designed originally for combat planes, helicopters, transports and VIP aircraft. This initial military version has been installed in over 150 aircraft and been on the market for 10 years. The move to adapt it for civilian use was catalyzed by a near-disaster over African skies three years ago. On November 28, 2002, terrorists fired two SA-7 Strela anti-aircraft missiles at an Arkia Israeli Airlines jet as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles narrowly missed the Boeing 757, which carried 261 Israeli passengers. Immediately following the attack, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Defense Ministry to assist the state-owned aeronautics concern in completing all phases of the system's testing, toward its eventual installation in all Israeli airliners. The system's radar detects approaching heat-seeking missiles, automatically deploying tiny, powerful flares in all directions from the plane's rear or sides that divert the missiles away from the plane. The system gives greater than 99 percent probability of missile detection, and has a very low false alarm rate. The hope is that companies around the world will see the system as the definitive answer to one of the most lethal threats to arise in the post-September 11 era - the heat-seeking shoulder missile, which is easy to hide, carry and use.