LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s air force will be on standby to shoot down any rogue aircraft over London from Saturday under tight new restrictions being enforced two weeks ahead of the Olympic Games.
Security surrounding the Olympics has made the headlines this week after Britain was forced to deploy 3,500 extra troops to fill an embarrassing last-minute shortfall in private security staff.
On Friday, Britain’s Royal Air Force warned planes that stray into the protected zone could ultimately be shot down.
“As a last resort, we do have lethal force as an option,” said Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha, the commander of Olympic Air Security.
British security forces are on high alert ahead of the Games which start on July 27, just over seven years after suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks in London.
Under the new rules, from Saturday all planes, from commercial airliners to single-seat craft, hang gliders and even model aircraft must adhere to strict regulations to fly across much of southeast England.
There will also be an outright ban for planes over central London and the Olympic Park, other than those using the capital’s Heathrow and City airports and a few other exceptions.
Planes will be monitored by military air traffic controllers while teams of ground observers will keep watch for unauthorised craft.
Typhoon fighter jets and military helicopters carrying snipers will be despatched to intercept any suspicious planes and guide them away from the Olympic Park.
Those that do not respond to a series of warnings, such as flares and written messages, could ultimately be shot down.
“There are a range of measures by which we try to understand what is happening involving the helicopters and the fast jets,” Atha told reporters on Friday at RAF Northolt, where the Typhoons are based.
“We intervene, we make absolutely clear of our presence and hopefully that resolves the situation,” Atha said. He said the decision to down any planes would be taken by “the highest level of government”.
Four Typhoons will be on standby with a pilot in the cockpit of one of the jets at all times, able to intercept any intruders into the restricted zone within minutes.
Batteries of ground air defences armed with Rapier and Starstreak missiles have been set up in six locations around London, a plan that has angered people living nearby.
“We are not suggesting there is any particular threat or risk to the Games that we know about,” said a spokesman for the Home Office, the government ministry responsible for domestic security.
“Nor are we suggesting that the airspace restrictions we have asked for are based on any specific threat.”
The Civil Aviation Authority said it had carried out its largest education process ever to inform pilots of the restrictions, which will last for a month but would not impact scheduled commercial flights according to officials.
Pilots that breach the restricted zone face having their licence suspended. (Editing by Maria Golovnina)