The “side effects” of terror – flying near the Sinai desert

The threat of terror is putting the airline industry under pressure without even performing a hostile act.

The security apparatus that surrounds the industry worldwide has an enormous price tag.

Now, the potential threat may force two Israeli airlines to phase out a certain type of aircraft used on domestic flights.

This is the situation – the continued operation of the ATR-72-500 by two Israeli airlines on flights to Eilat may be in doubt, as the threat from shoulder-launched missiles along the Egyptian border has reached an all time peak.

The situation in Egypt turned the Sinai desert into a haven for terrorists, equipped with thousands of shoulder-launched missiles. The latest models arrived in the desert after the revolution in Libya.

While the medium- and large-sized aircraft of EL AL, Arkia and Israir will soon be equipped with Elbit Systems’ C-Music countermeasures, the 7 ATR-72-500s operated by Arkia and Israir pose a problem.

The system is too heavy for the aircraft that operate most of the flights from central Israel to Eilat, the Red Sea resort. These flights have to fly very near to the border – an area that has seen terror attacks on the ground.

Since an attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger airline in Kenya in 2002, there has been a slow process to equip Israeli passenger aircraft with countermeasures.

The immediate decision was to use “Flight Guard” – a flare-based system which is an adaptation of a system used by Israeli air force. This system – developed by Israel Aerospace Industries – has not largely been installed, however. The reasoning behind this is the opposition from foreign airports to allowing aircraft carrying flares to land on their runways.

“Flight Guard” was designed as an interim solution. The permanent one is C-Music, developed by the ELOP division of Elbit Systems.

C-Music is based on the MUSIC system – a direct infrared countermeasure technology for military aircraft and helicopters that disrupts missiles fired at aircraft and causes them to veer off course by transmitting a laser beam.

In recent weeks, Arkia and Israir have revealed they are in negotiations with the Israeli transport ministry, trying to avoid a decision that will force them to phase out their ATR’s.

A source close to the issue said that there are a number of possibilities and that “none of them gives a full answer”.

The “side effects” of terror are taking a toll – and will continue to do so, as the means available to the terrorists becomes more lethal.

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