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FedEx to fly Northrop Grumman infrared countermeasures on MD-10s next month

Northrop Grumman expects FedEx Express to begin flying its Guardian commercial directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) system in revenue service by the end of October, following final operational approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Several of the laser jammers will be evaluated in routine commercial service for 18 months under Phase 3 of the US Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Counter-Manpads programme to develop the capability to protect airliners from attack by shoulder-launched missiles.

FedEx is modifying 11 Boeing MD-10 freighters to carry the Guardian pod and plans to have nine in service at all times, accumulating 12,000h of operating time over the 18-month period to gather data on the reliability of the DIRCM system and assess its impact on routine commercial airline operations. Northrop is building 12 pods in addition to the five produced in Phase 2, says Jack Pledger, director IRCM business development.

BAE Systems, meanwhile, is continuing to test an American Airlines Boeing 767 fitted with its JetEye commercial DIRCM and will modify another 767 operated by cargo carrier ABX Air under Phase 3 of the Counter-Manpads programme. The company is focusing its efforts on a potential evaluation of the system in revenue passenger service, says Burt Keirstead, director commercial DIRCM programmes.

Phase 3 presently involves only an evaluation in revenue cargo service, but there are moves in Congress as part of its fiscal year 2007 budget mark-up to direct the DHS to conduct a parallel suitability trial in passenger airline service. BAE expects the modified ABX 767 to be ready in February, but only non-revenue test flights are planned. "We will see what happens with 2007 funding," says Keirstead.

The DHS is still to be convinced that the DIRCM systems are suitable for commercial airline use, and Phase 3 will gather data on their reliability and any adverse impact they may have on routine operations. BAE and Northrop argue that their systems are ready, but airlines are resisting on cost grounds.

FedEx's first MD-10 is modified and ready to begin revenue flights with the DIRCM installed and operating, once final FAA approval is received.

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