Assuming the company gets permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), some future FedEx cargo planes may be equipped with anti-missile laser systems designed to help protect them from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The laser systems, should they be used, would work to disrupt a missile’s ability to target these cargo jets.
Various incidents have taken place over the years involving missiles launched at civilian aircraft using MANPADS, which remains a threat to a variety of flights (via State.gov). These events, some of which have resulted in the loss of life, are often due to misidentification, yet the intent behind the action has no bearing on its consequences.
Laser anti-missile systems help protect against these threats, as they work by disrupting the missile’s ability to target a plane. The laser systems pose a potential threat of their own, however, particularly to other aircraft and people on the ground. Among other things, these lasers can cause eye damage and skin burns.
FedEx, as part of its request to install these anti-missile laser systems on Airbus A321-200 aircraft, notes that steps would be taken to address the safety issues presented by this type of defense technology. FedEx first sought permission to add the defense system to its cargo planes in October 2019; its request is detailed in a document published on the Federal Register.
FedEx operates hundreds of cargo planes, but the Airbus A321-200 isn’t yet in use as part of its fleet, according to NBC. The document published on the Federal Register notes that the application only covers this particular airplane model and not the wider FedEx fleet.
Whether the company ultimately equips these future aircraft with anti-missile laser systems will depend entirely on whether it gets FAA approval. At this time, FedEx has not commented on the request.