DALLAS — In 2004, El Al Israeli Airlines (LY) became the first airline to install an anti-missile system on a commercial aircraft. The technology was first developed for the Israeli Air Force’s Flight Guard, a sophisticated radar system that detects incoming missiles and ejects flares to confuse and deflect the missiles. The Israeli airline’s anti-missile defense system has since been updated repeatedly.
El Al’s aircraft are equipped with a Doppler radar system that uses the doppler effect to produce velocity data pertaining to objects at a distance. When an LY aircraft comes under attack, the system responds within seconds by firing invisible flares that divert any heat-seeking missiles.
The Doppler radar system is comprised of four antennas: one at the front, two at the side, and one at the back. The configuration provides 360-degree coverage around the aircraft.
The Doppler Radar system costs around US$1m per aircraft to be installed. This system was initially installed on six of the flag carrier’s aircraft, and if successful, it would be rolled out to all of the carrier’s other planes.
Thus, LY was the first to install an anti-missile defense system on its aircraft, and the carrier is considered to have one of the most advanced systems, making it one of the safest airlines in the region.
Since its inaugural flight from Geneva to Tel Aviv in September 1948, LY has now grown to serve over 50 destinations, operating scheduled international and domestic services and cargo flights within Israel and to Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, and the Far East from its main base at Ben Gurion Airport (TLV).
El Al has been using the anti-missile system for quite a while now, given that it was the first airline to install this system almost 20 years ago. Back in November 2002, an Israeli Arkia Boeing 757 had a narrow escape when it was targeted by terrorists with MANPADS in Kenya.
Thankfully, the missiles missed their intended target, but the near-miss prompted the immediate suspension of flights from Israel and spurred the development of anti-missile systems. Two missiles barely missed the plane, carrying over 200 passengers.
That incident led Israeli airlines to consider installing an anti-missile system, specifically the Flight Guard system, on their aircraft.
Aircraft and helicopter anti-missile systems are mostly designed to counter short-range and shoulder-launched missiles. Missile defense systems use infrared sensors to detect the heat traces of incoming missiles, this capsule of extremely cold liquid either renders the incoming missile entirely invisible to detection or reduces the system’s ability to detect the incoming missile fast enough.
To keep reading, subscribe today and you'll never miss our exclusive content. Airways Premium Members get full access to incisive articles and analyses from aviation experts and industry insiders.
Feature Image: El Al Israeli Airlines 4X-EDE Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner | Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways