I find it very reassuring that we in the UK take our security seriously, but I never realised that there were so many incidents of the jets being involved in checking on any unusual activities once a month.
Britain regularly scrambles fighter jets to check on commercial aircraft flying into its air space, the head of the Royal Air Force was quoted on Thursday as saying.
Since the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks in the US, there had been at least one incident a month requiring a Royal Air Force Tornado fighter to intervene in British skies, Air Chief Marshal Glenn Torpy was quoted as saying by The Times.
"The Tornados have been launching pretty regularly for any aircraft that appear to be behaving oddly: for instance, where airline pilots fail to communicate with flight control or take an unexpected route," Torpy said.
"We're pretty acutely aware of the short time that we have to respond to these incidents. If there is any doubt at all about an aircraft, we launch the Tornados," he said.
It is the first time since the end of the Cold War that fighters are being regularly scrambled from British air bases to monitor planes in national airspace, The Times said.
Four quick-reaction alert Tornado F3 planes are on permanent standby to investigate any plane that has not precisely followed accepted flight control procedures, it said.
Torpy said the RAF shadowed one commercial flight with a Tornado last month when the airliner diverted to Prestwick Airport near Glasgow after a passenger became disruptive.
The Times did not indicate what happened on the other occasions that fighters were scrambled.
However, it said Prime Minister Tony Blair would have to give authorization to shoot down any plane hijacked by militants intent on a September 11-style attack.
Britain suffered its worst peacetime attack in July 2005 when four British Islamists blew themselves up on London's transport network, killing 52 commuters and wounding hundreds.
Anti-terrorist police say they have thwarted at least five major plots since last year's attacks. In August, police said they had foiled a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives.
The head of Britain's domestic spy agency said last month Muslim extremists were plotting at least 30 major terrorist attacks in Britain and the threats may involve chemical and nuclear devices.
Scary stuff though as the Tornados would not hesitate to blow a plane up if they thought there was any danger to lives on the ground. It is indeed a sign of the times.