US Bill Would Force Airbus to Install Missile Defencs on A380

A senior Republican has introduced legislation in the US Congress that would force Airbus to install technology on its A380 aircraft to counter the threat from shoulder-fired missiles.

John Mica, Republican chairman of the House aviation sub-committee, last week introduced the bill, which would require aircraft that carry over 800 passengers to install technology to combat Manpad (man-portable air defence systems) threats such as Stinger missiles.

"We are trying to address the greatest potential for risk for an aircraft that would transport a number of people that might live in a small village," Mr Mica told the Financial Times.

The Department of Homeland Security is working with industry to develop the technology in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks on the US. While the bill does not single out Airbus, the A380 is the only aircraft under development that could carry more than 800 passengers.

The move comes as the European Union and US are involved in a dispute over subsides received by both Boeing and Airbus. It also comes on the heels of House-approved defence legislation that would prevent European Aeronautic Defence and Space, Airbus's parent company, from bidding for a Pentagon contract to supply the air force with air refuelling tankers while the US and EU are embroiled in the World Trade Organisation dispute.

Mr Mica denied that the legislation was an attempt to punish Airbus. "Any passenger plane that has 800 passengers is a flying target for terrorists," he said. "I don't care who produces it."

Airbus has dismissed the legislation as an attempt to give Boeing an edge over the European company. Agence France Press quoted John Leahy, Airbus commercial director, as saying the legislation was "silly".

The Air Transport Association, which represents US airlines, opposes congressional efforts to mandate the technology for airlines.

Asked whether he believed the ATA had softened its stance, Mr Mica responded: "I don't know and I really don't care. The technology is right around the corner. Anybody that produces an aircraft that carries that many human beings should be required to have . . . some type of a defensive system. It is only a fraction of the cost of the aircraft."

In the past Mr Mica has made controversial statements about US airlines, saying some of the legacy carriers were "brain dead" dinosaurs. On Friday, he said some airlines had made improvements on returning to profitability, while others were likely to go bankrupt.

"My prediction is coming true that the ones that make the changes will survive and the others will go by the wayside."