Has the time come for countermeasures on commercial aircraft?

The tragic news of the Sinai disaster, where a Russian flight from the tourist town of Sharm el-Sheikh went down killing 224 people, is yet to be determined as a result of terrorism or an accident.

Due to fear that the plane had been brought down by a bomb, all UK-bound flights from Sharm el-Sheikh were temporarily stopped. Although the cause of the crash is still unknown, it has been confirmed that an investigation into a possible missile or bomb incident is ongoing.

 Such a tragedy raises the topic of missile defence.

Is it not time that we consider fitting ECM (electronic counter measures) and chaff/flare dispensers to commercial aircrafts that are entering sensitive parts of the world?

While it can be argued that the average aircraft is not under threat and there isn't the necessary risk to justify the added costs, it is worth taking a look into what defence systems could be used and how they work. Do commercial airliners really need some sort of missile defence?

Flare countermeasure

Few civilian aircraft are fitted with countermeasure flares, as a general rule they are used only for military use. They work against a particular type of threat - an infrared heat-seeking missile, either surface to air or air to air.

An infrared missile focuses on the heat created by the plane’s engines and the aim with a flare countermeasure is to make the missile seek out the heat signature from the flare, rather than the aircraft's engines. This countermeasure would also require a system that detects and informs you when you deploy but the expense wouldn’t stop there, the cost to install the system and train pilots would increase by millions in addition to the ongoing cost of CAW (continued air worthiness).

Chaff countermeasure

Again with this countermeasure, a chaff is mainly used on military aircraft and their purpose is to confuse and divert radar-guided missiles.

A chaff dispensing system releases millions of aluminum or zinc coated fibers that when released, create a greater radar signature than the aircraft. This temporarily confuses the approaching missile in the hope that it is diverted by the chaff.

Chaff/flares are just two of the countermeasure systems used on modern military aircraft and some VIP commercial aircraft which do have ECM and chaff and flare dispensers fitted. Although very few commercial airliners have been brought down by a surface to air missile, tragedies such as the recent Sinai disaster (although the cause is undetermined) still highlight the absence of a defence system on commercial aircraft.

What do you think? Is it time we consider missile countermeasures for commercial aircraft?

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