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American Airlines to test anti-missile system

Up to three American Airlines jets carrying passengers will be outfitted with anti-missile technology this spring.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Up to three American Airlines jets carrying passengers will be outfitted with anti-missile technology this spring in the latest phase of testing technology to protect commercial planes from attack.

An American Airlines spokesman said Friday that the test will determine how well the anti-missile system holds up under the rigors of flight.

The first Boeing 767-200 will be equipped in April or later, said the airline spokesman, Tim Wagner. American operates that Boeing model mostly between New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles.

American said it is "not in favor" of putting anti-missile systems on commercial planes but agreed to take part in the tests to understand technologies that might be available in the future.

The technology is intended to stop a missile attack by detecting heat given off from the rocket, then firing a laser beam that jams the missile's guidance system.

The device on the belly of the Boeing 767-200 aircraft will be operational but won't be tested on regular flights, Wagner said. The use of a signal to mimic a missile attack has already been tested in the air, Wagner said.

American, the largest U.S. carrier, has been working with defense contractor BAE Systems PLC on the project for a couple years. In 2006, BAE installed its hardware on a Boeing 767 that wasn't used to fly paying passengers.

About a year ago, reporters were invited to American's maintenance base in Fort Worth to see a jet outfitted with the laser-jamming device on its belly.

"We are now entering the next phase," Wagner said, which is "to see how the system holds up on an aircraft in real-time conditions — weather, continuous takeoffs and landings, etc. — and to test its maintenance reliability."

Wagner said American is also collecting more information on how the laser-jamming device affects fuel consumption.

Congress has approved funding for anti-missile research partly out of fear that terrorists armed with shoulder-fired weapons could hit jetliners as they take off and land. U.K.-based BAE won a contract from the Homeland Security Department to test its technology.

Fort Worth-based American, a unit of AMR Corp., has said anti-missile defense is best handled by stopping terrorists from getting missiles that could shoot down commercial jets and by improving security around airports.