Recently North Korea launched a missile out of its national airspace on a trajectory which crossed the route of an aircraft from Air France. The aircraft wasn't in danger at any time, the minimal distance between the missile and the aircraft was always higher than 100 km (7 minutes separation).

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Source: CBS

ATC was not able to inform the aircraft, or any other aircraft in the vicinity. If the timing was such the missile could hit the aircraft it seems this would have made no difference.

From a pilot in command, responsible for on-board safety, stand point, what kind of information is available regarding such events? Is there some protection possible yet, or expected in the near future? If not, can (or must) a PIC asks for something to be put in place?

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    $\begingroup$ While it's not really disseminated to civilians (pilots, ATC, or otherwise,) there are actually lots of currently-deployed sensors tracking missile launches around the world. The United States and its allies as well as Russia and China all have advanced missile-tracking capabilities and have had them for decades, dating back to the initial development of ICBMs. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has a host of radar and infrared/visible light sensors that are used to detect launches and track missiles, for example. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ There are passive missile launch detection systems available (with or without automated reaction to IR-missiles), but I doubt these systems are available for civilian markets (with perhaps the exception of Israel). Active systems can warn you if you are locked on and a launch has taken place (radar guided missiles). This will not warn you in case an ICBM will cross your path, because you are not the target. Commercial airliners will not know it is coming fed by info from the onboard systems alone. $\endgroup$
    – Chris V
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 8:28

1 Answer 1


Pre-announced missile launches will often be published by responsible countries in NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), which are notices of potential hazards to aircraft in flight or on the ground. These are generally things like closed runways, inoperative radio navigation aids, cranes on approach or departure paths and the like. They can also warn pilots about conflict zones, missile/rocket launches, and satellite re-entry paths.

NOTAMs are published publicly and are read by pilots as part of flight planning. I've heard of important ones being read off by ATC, but that's extremely rare. Commercial flights can also be sent warnings using the ACARS system by their corporate support groups.

The NOTAM system relies on organizations/governments posting these notices. North Korea does not announce missile launches before they happen, or even after they happen (unless they are successful or course), so nobody in civil aviation knew about it until it was all over.

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    $\begingroup$ The part about NOTAMs being issued by responsible countries and responsible countries not including DPRK are true. However, the "nobody knew about it until it was all over" part probably isn't true. I'd suspect these guys knew about it within seconds of the first stage booster firing. Same for their Russian, Chinese, etc. counterparts. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I've amended it to say nobody in civil aviation knew about it in order to satisfy the pedants ;) $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'd love to see that set of notices: "Signage on Taxiway L not painted; Runway light out on runway 27; gopher holes on Taxyway C; nuclear missile test crossing your airspace today; coffee maker broken in lounge..." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ We have NOTAMs, ASHTAMS, BIRDTAMS, SNOWTAMS, maybe we need OHS**TTAMS. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 16:00

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