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Fighter jets to fly over Lower Mainland this week

It's the sound of security.

The thundering noise of CF-18 fighter jets will reverberate across the Lower Mainland this week as the Canadian Forces fly over Olympic venues in final preparation for their mission during the Winter Games.

"The pilots are doing their training flights to familiarize themselves with the area and with the conditions in which they will be operating," Navy Lieutenant David Lavallee said yesterday in an interview.

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They will be flying at different altitudes, dropping to as low as a couple of thousand feet. The aircraft will be at higher altitudes while pilots familiarize themselves with the landscape. "If people see them and hear them, it is nothing to be worried about. It is just training flights."

The fighter jets are prepared to shoot down aircraft that violate restricted airspace, Lt. Lavallee said. But he quickly added that lethal force would be a last resort, after escalating efforts to identify the flight and its purpose had failed.

"If they enter restricted air space and are not authorized to be there, we will try to establish communications with them," he said. Fighter jets might try to intercept intruders, or helicopters could try to identify them visually, he said. "A whole process happens before it gets to point where the option of lethal force is considered."

The fighters will be ready to start their mission as soon as air space restrictions come into effect, he said.

Organizers anticipate up to 600 additional non-scheduled aircraft in the region on the peak days of the Winter Games. Security measures in the air have been imposed in concentric rings of restrictions in a 30-nautical-mile radius of the airport and Whistler's Athletes Village. The rules governing airspace above venues and training sites come into effect on Friday.

Generally, all aircraft except approved military and police operations will be required to specify point-to-point operations and be on an active flight plan. Random flights will not be authorized. Also, all aircraft will require a functioning transponder and must maintain two-way radio communications with air traffic services. Prohibited operations include solo flights by student pilots, aerobatic flights and unmanned air vehicles and model aircraft operations.

Within airspace closer to the venues, the restrictions tighten. All cabin and flight crews entering Olympic air space are required to register first with the integrated security unit, and all goods must be screened. Parachuting, parasailing, paragliding, hang gliding, hot air balloons, dirigibles, sight-seeing air ships, banner towing and aerial advertising are prohibited. Within a one-mile radius of several venues, access is limited to military, police and emergency flights, search and rescue, state aircraft on official business, media aircraft and aircraft carrying international protective persons designated by the RCMP.

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The CF-18 Hornet fighter jets will be stationed in Vancouver and at the Canadian Forces base in Comox.

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