By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian Air Force will declare no-fly zones over World Cup stadiums to prevent terrorist attacks during this year's soccer tournament, but there's a catch: it can't shoot down intruders, for now.
By law, Brazil's military can only shoot at unresponsive civilian planes on drug trafficking routes near its borders, but not over densely populated urban areas where games will be played in 12 cities.
The Air Force is asking the Brazilian government to change the shoot-down law to allow effective defense of the air space during the 64 games of the June 12-July 13 global soccer tournament, said Air Force Brigadier Antonio Carlos Egito at a news conference on Friday.
In the meantime, the anti-aircraft guns to be deployed near the stadiums cannot be fired at a plane flying into a no-fly zone, said Egito, the military chief of air traffic over Brazil.
The Air Force and civilian aviation regulator ANAC announced that for security reasons commercial flights will not be allowed to land at eight airports that are within the 7.2 kilometer (4 nautical mile) no-fly radius around the stadiums.
The suspension will begin one hour before games kick off and last for 4 to 5 hours, though take-offs will not be restricted. They do not affect the country's main international airports.
The suspensions will mostly disrupt flights at Rio de Janeiro's domestic airport Santos Dumont and complicate the logistics of Brazilian carriers that have already sold 3,000 seats on flights that will have to be canceled.
PLENTY OF SEATS
The good news for soccer fans trying to follow their teams from one game to the next is that only 10 percent of seats have been sold on Brazilian domestic flights during the World Cup, ANAC president Marcelo Guaranys said.
Skyrocketing prices for flights during that period came down 25 percent in January from November levels, he said. Officials said that was because seats booked in blocks have been freed up by travel agencies seeing less demand than expected.
More than 600,000 foreign fans are expected to land in Brazil for the World Cup, joining an estimated 3 million Brazilians who will travel to games in other cities.
ANAC reported last week that renovation work is behind schedule at three major airports, Guarulhos in Sao Paulo, Viracopos in Campinas, which is 88 kilometers (55 miles) from Sao Paulo, and the airport of the capital, Brasilia.
To help reduce the crunch at airport terminals and aprons, the Air Force is lending its military bases for the arrival of VIP delegations and the 32 national soccer teams.
As an example of the heavy traffic to come, officials said Portugal's team will fly into Campinas, followed by a press plane with 200 journalists and four executive jets carrying their star player Cristiano Ronaldo and his family.
Civil Aviation Minister Wellington Moreira Franco told Reuters this week that Italy has been allowed to fly in and out of the Santa Cruz Air Force base near Rio to avoid traveling to the city's crowded airports.
Mexico, Bosnia and Costa Rica have also been authorized to use a military base near their training site in Santos.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Andrew Hay)