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WASHINGTON — Note to Santa: Do not deviate from your flight plan unless you want your escort to become an intercept.

U.S. fighters are flying about 400 intercepts per year over the United States to "intercept, identify and potentially divert" aircraft that appear to be a potential threat, said the head of U.S. Northern Command.

"There are a number of aviators out there who have had a chance to see an F-16 up very close, who have been landed at an airfield that wasn’t their planned airfield and were greeted by 30 or 40 of their newest friends in the FBI," said Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart.

Most of the intercepts are prompted by "a mix of buffoonery or mechanical failure or just a lack of understanding of rules," Renuart told reporters Wednesday.

U.S. officials are conducting an information campaign to let aviators know that they have to be more diligent about filing flight plans and check notices to pilots, he said.

For example, some local crop dusters have ignored temporary flight restrictions imposed in Crawford, Texas, when President George W. Bush is there, Renuart said.

"We’ve had a couple instances where, you know, 7 o’clock in the morning, that’s when the crop sprayer gets out to spray his crops, and if his crops are on the other side of a restricted area from his airfield, he just takes off and flies right through it.

"Well that tends to alert the system quite a bit, and so we’ve had F-16s or F-22s even in one case chasing around after a crop duster down there," Renuart said.


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