An article in the NY Times explains how Congress wants to waste $10 billion on missile defenses for commercial airplanes. $120 million has already been wasted on this project. Even worse, the airlines would be required to pay for maintenance on these systems which, according to the article, could exceed $1 million per year per plane. (That would be an ongoing expense of $6.8 billion per year if installed on 6,800 planes.)
Why is this a big waste of money? Because shoulder fired missiles, the type that this defense system is designed to protect against, just aren’t that big of a threat to large commercial airplanes.
A friend of mine who was flew F-15s in the U.S. Air Force and who was a pilot for Delta Airlines once explained to me that a small missile couldn’t take out a large commercial airplane because they are too big and can be landed even if one of their engines are hit. The article seems to bear out what I was told:
Part of the reason for the relatively low ranking of missiles among threats is that large passenger airliners are designed to fly after the loss of an engine, even if that engine explodes, industry experts said.
The article also mentions two instances in which shoulder fired missiles were launched at commercial airplanes. In 2002, two missiles were fired at a Boeing 757 in Kenya and both missed. And in 2004, a missile was fired at an Airbus A300 on takeoff from Baghdad, and although this missile hit and disabled the plane’s hydraulic system, the pilot was still able to land the plane. So it seems that these missiles are 0 for 3 against large commercial airplanes.