JERUSALEM – Israel is equipping its El Al fleet with an anti-missile system and the national carrier’s first plane protected by the device will take to the air by June, the Transportation Ministry said on Thursday.
Israeli aviation sources said they believed El Al was the first airline to install the countermeasures. International experts have said they expected other airlines to follow suit within months in response to global terrorism fears.
Israel stepped up efforts to adapt military anti-missile systems for its civilian aircraft after an Israeli Arkia charter jet came under attack from shoulder-held missiles in Kenya in 2002. The missiles, fired by al Qaeda-linked attackers, missed.
The ministry said an El Al passenger jet was now being fitted with the Israeli-made “Flight Guard” system, which will automatically release diversionary flares if a heat-seeking missile is detected by an on-board sensor.
“We expect the first plane to be flying by June, and this is just the beginning of a comprehensive upgrade of the El Al fleet,” a ministry spokesman said.
El Al is already regarded as the world’s most security-conscious airline due to its stringent anti-hijacking precautions.
The ministry spokesman declined to discuss budgets, but aviation sources put the cost of the “Flight Guard,” installed on the El Al jet by state-owned Israel Military Industries and Elta defense firm — a unit of Israel Aircraft Industries — at some $1 million each.
Aviation sources said Flight Guard is embedded out of sight in the plane’s body to avoid drawing attention, and its flares are designed not to be a fire risk if they land in civilian areas.