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Home > Fear of Flying > What precautions have been taken against missiles attacks on airliners?
What precautions have been taken against missiles attacks on airliners?
Flying - Fear of Flying
Monday, 04 September 2006 09:52


Dear Captain Lim,

I am a fearful flyer. Shortly, I will be flying with British Airways from Britain to America on a Boeing 777. I am very worried about terrorist surface-to-air missile (SAM) attacks.

Three years ago, concern for such an attack brought the Army into Heathrow for a couple of weeks. As far as I can see - the threat (dozens of unaccounted for SAMs in Europe) - has not gone away.

What, if any defensive precautions have been taken?

Thank you,

Tom

Hi Tom,

Firstly, the odds of being a victim of a surface-to-air missile (SAM) attacks on a Boeing 777 that you will be on are about one in eleven million. On the scale of probabilities, some experts have ranked the potential for a bomb on a plane is much higher than a missile attack. Either way, the choice is just as bad. But that should not stop you from flying, as such danger is just one more risk of traveling that you can*t completely control. Think about this - The probability of you being involved in a fatal automobile crash, if you are an average driver, is one in five thousand (about 42,000 people are killed on the road each year in the USA). Yet, you are not fearful when you are on the highway! So it is all in the mind!

The airline industry is aware of the threat of SAM attacks. In 1978 and 1979, commercial aircraft of Air Rhodesia were being shot down by SAMs fired by guerillas of Joshua Nkomo. Since then, the possibility of an airliner with hundreds of passengers being shot down by SAMs has become very real.

What defensive precautions have been taken? The only airline that has seriously taken this threat is El Al Israeli Airline. They began to equip all its small fleet with anti-missile systems similar to those used on its military aircraft. They make use of the infrared counter-measures systems that protect aircraft against SAMs. The system work by preventing a missile from locking on or generating a decoy infrared source to divert the missile.

What about other airlines? The question is cost. The cash-strapped airline industry has to look at the financial implication of installing these electronic protection gears on airliners at this point of time. It was quoted that it would cost an additional US$5 million to install one in each plane. It was speculated that, once the first US commercial airliner is shot down, many US Airlines may then rush to install these systems. Perhaps, the price may probably drop down to US$2 to US$3 million per plane.

When will such system become standard equipment aboard all US or other affected airlines is a $64,000 question.

How easy is a SAM attack from the ground? According to Mr O'Halloran, a security expert, anyone attempting to shoot down an airliner would face a complicated task that needed to be carried out in a matter of seconds. "The tricky part is making sure you are within the minimum range. If you are too close the thing won't arm and the plane will fly past."

So, Tom, there are no absolute guarantees against any missile attacks on your plane just as there are no absolute guarantees of you not being involved in a car accident. Think of them as being very unlikely events and you would enjoy your flight to the USA. If not, you are only depriving your joy of life to be free from negative thoughts.

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