Skip to content

FedEx asks FAA for OK to add anti-missile systems to some cargo planes

Jan. 15, 2022
4 min read
FedEx asks FAA for OK to add anti-missile systems to some cargo planes
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor's Note

The featured image of this article has been changed for clarity.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night famously keeps United States Postal Service carriers from delivering mail. When it comes to delivering packages and cargo, FedEx wants its planes to be able to keep going if attacked by missiles.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

A FedEx plane waiting to take off. (Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

“In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS),” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a notice posted Friday. In other words, weapons like shoulder-fired missiles.

El Al Israel Airlines equips its commercial aircraft with anti-aircraft missile technology and planes used for Air Force One have both electronic and infrared countermeasures to jam or divert incoming missiles when the U.S. president is on board, Politico notes.

The worry is that someone may try to use a heat-seeking missile to attack a jetliner.

But to date, aircraft used for cargo delivery have not been equipped with any anti-missile capabilities. To avoid costly delays and rerouting, and to continue to be permitted to fly over trouble spots that might otherwise be closed to air traffic, FedEx asked the FAA back in 2019 for permission to install laser-based missile defense systems on Airbus A321-200 airplanes, which the company does not currently have in its fleet.

The information came to light in an FAA filing.

“FAA design standards for transport category airplanes did not envisage that a design feature could project infrared laser energy outside the airplane. The FAA’s design standards are inadequate to address this capability,” the FAA notes.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

In response to the FedEx request, the FAA is now proposing conditions to allow the package delivery company to proceed with the modification the agency describes as “a novel or unusual design feature when compared to the state of technology envisioned in the airworthiness standards for transport category airplanes.”

As explained in the FAA notice, the proposed design feature is a system that emits infrared laser energy outside the aircraft as a countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles. But the agency's regulations don't currently have "adequate or appropriate safety standards for this feature," according to the FAA. “These proposed special conditions contain the additional safety standards that the Administrator considers necessary to establish a level of safety equivalent to that established by the existing airworthiness standards.”

The FAA conditions cover a variety of safety concerns and apply only to Airbus Model A321-200 airplanes with laser-based missile defense systems. “This action affects only a certain novel or unusual design feature on one model of airplane. It is not a rule of general applicability and affects only the applicant,” the FAA said. The special conditions can be applied to other plane models with similar design features, but only if the applicant applies for a supplemental certificate, the government agency noted.

The special conditions include assuring that the system has a way to prevent the inadvertent activation of the system on the ground, including during airplane maintenance and ground handling, and making sure operation of the system in-flight doesn’t damage the airplane or other aircraft or injure any person.

FAA also will require that the airplane flight manual supplement (AFMS) describes the intended functions of the installed laser systems and clearly states: "CAUTION: The operation of the installed laser system could pose significant risk of injury to others while in proximity to other aircraft, airports, and populated areas."

You can learn more about anti-missile systems and the special conditions in the FAA’s Special Conditions notice here.

Featured image by FedEx MD-11F (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees