'Air India One', the first VVIP aircraft for President, PM arrives in Delhi

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India's President Ram Nath Kovind greets India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his oath during a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
India's President Ram Nath Kovind greets India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his oath during a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

A custom-made B777 aircraft, which will be used to fly the president, vice president and prime minister, has arrived in Delhi from the US on Thursday, said government officials.

The plane was scheduled to be delivered by aircraft manufacturer Boeing to Air India in July but its delivery was delayed twice - once in July for a few weeks due to COVID-19 pandemic and then in August for a few weeks due to technical reasons - the officials noted.

Air India One, which is the call sign of the aircraft, landed at the Delhi airport from Texas at around 3 pm on Thursday, they stated.

Senior officials of the national carrier had reached the US during the first half of August to receive the plane from Boeing, the officials said.

Another custom-made B777 plane for the travel of VVIPs is likely to be received from Boeing during a later date, they noted.

These two aircraft were part of Air India's commercial fleet for a few months in 2018 before they were sent back to Boeing for retrofitting them for VVIP travel.

Officials said the total cost of purchase and retrofitting the two planes has been estimated to be around Rs 8,400 crore.

The B777 planes will have state-of-the-art missile defence systems called Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) and Self-Protection Suites (SPS).

In February, the US agreed to sell the two defence systems to India at a cost of USD 190 million.

During the travel of the VVIPs, the two B777 aircraft will be operated by pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and not of Air India, an official said.

Currently, the president, vice president and prime minister, fly on Air India's B747 planes, which have the call sign Air India One. Air India pilots fly these B747 aircraft for the dignitaries and the Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) maintains them. When these B747 aircraft are not flying the dignitaries, they are used by the Indian national carrier for commercial operations.

The custom-made B777 planes will be used for travel of the dignitaries only.

The Centre has already initiated the process of divestment of its stake in Air India, which has a debt of over Rs 60,000 crore. However, the process has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"A joint team of senior officers from National Carrier Air India, VVIP security personnel and senior government officials are on the way to the US to accept the delivery of the VVIP's flight Air India One," top government sources had then told ANI.

The VVIP aircraft B-777 is a replacement of wide-body aircraft Boeing B-747 jumbo aircraft whose call sign is Air India One.

The interior design of the aircraft is very attractive, which was modified recently by Boeing, apart from other customisations.

The aircraft has:

  • Advanced and secured communication system that allows availing audio and video communication functions mid-air without any worries of hacking or being taped

  • Big suit/cabin for the VVIP

  • Mini medical centre

  • Standard space for the press

The rear seats are of the Economy class category while the rest of the seats are Business class. B777 aircraft can fly over 17 hours continuously," informed the sources.

Air India will receive the aircraft which will be later handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF). After that, the new aircraft will be de-registered and fresh registration SOP will be placed in the process because the VVIP aircraft will operate under IAF.

Air India pilots will also be a part of the aircraft operating team till the IAF pilots gain expertise in handling the variant. Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) will take care of the maintenance of the aircraft.

The new Boeing 777 aircraft for VVIPs guest is also equipped with advanced defence systems and will be operated fully by IAF pilots in due course of time.

The colour of Air India Boeing 777 had been totally changed including changes to the design of the aircraft as per the recommendations and further approval by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). (ANI) PTI DSP RHL

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