El Al plane
El Al plane Photo by Nir Keidar
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Installation of the new system to defend airliners against missile attacks is being delayed due to a financial dispute between El Al Israel Airlines, various government ministries and the defense electronics company Elbit Systems, which is designing the anti-missile system.

Because of the dispute, El Al has stopped Elbit Systems from continuing its tests to protect commercial aircraft from hand-held mobile anti-aircraft missiles. The system is made by El-Op, an Elbit Systems subsidiary. The project is budgeted at $76 million and El Al was to be the first Israeli airline to receive the technology.

The key question is who will foot the bill for the extra fuel that planes would need to carry the anti-missile system. El Al says this would mean millions of dollars a year in extra fuel expenses.

The finance and transportation ministries are involved in the dispute. The former director general of the Transportation Ministry, Yaakov Ganot, was unable to settle the matter despite various attempts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also held a meeting on the issue in March, but has not made a decision.

As a result, El Al has banned Elbit Systems from conducting any further tests on its planes.

The system, called commercial multi-spectral infrared countermeasure (C-MUSIC ), is based on the MUSIC system, a direct infra-red countermeasure technology for military aircraft and helicopters. This system disrupts missiles fired at aircraft, using a laser to make them veer off course.

El Al said the company does not comment on matters relating to security. Elbit Systems said the project is on schedule.