U.S. Lawmakers Push for Airline Safety Devices, Citing Gaza Rockets

Rocket fire near Tel Aviv airport and crash of Malaysian airliner over Ukraine must raise red flags, lawmakers say.

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House in Yehud, Israel, suffers direct hit from Gaza rocket, July 22, 2014.
House in Yehud, Israel, suffers direct hit from Gaza rocket, July 22, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Two U.S. legislators on Sunday urged the government to study whether American passenger jets should be equipped with devices protecting them against missiles like the one that brought down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and projectiles fired near Tel Aviv's airport.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Steve Israel are asking the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration to consider technologies that would shield commercial aircraft.

A government study should include specific recommendations on the best technology needed to combat both shoulder-fired and surface-to-air missiles, they said. Anti-missile devices include onboard lasers, warning systems, flares and infrared countermeasure systems, costing from $1 to $2 million per plane, Schumer and Israel said.

The Democratic lawmakers say two major mishaps have raised red flags that require a quick study of defense technologies.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on July 17 by what U.S. officials believe may have been a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by separatists in Eastern Ukraine. All 298 people aboard died. And last week, the FAA banned American flights to Israel after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.

"The tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, plus numerous missiles being fired near the Tel Aviv airport have made one thing clear this week: we cannot let this happen to an American passenger plane," Schumer said.

As a result, "we are once again reminded that an attack on a civilian aircraft remains a significant threat," Israel said.

The Government Accountability Office believes there are between 500,000 and 750,000 portable surface-to-air missiles in existence worldwide. The State Department estimates thousands may be in the hands of terrorists.

Packaged in tubes, portable missiles can be concealed in a car trunk along with a launching mechanism and battery, making them especially dangerous, the lawmakers said.

Schumer noted that since 1973, at least 30 civilian aircraft have been downed by shoulder fired missiles, killing about 920 people, according to Stratfor, a Global Intelligence firm in Austin, Texas.

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