The second customised Boeing 777 aircraft for VVIP travel of Prime Minister, President and the Vice President finally landed in Delhi on Saturday.
The aircraft consists of a missile defence system, as efficient as that of the US President's Air Force One. The two aircraft are one of its kind as they have the capability of travelling the dignitaries directly from India to the US without stopping and are dedicated to serve the three dignitaries alone.
The aircraft were to land this July, however, due to the COIVD-19 pandemic, the facility cited “operational issues” as a reason for this delay. The aircraft are to be flown by the pilots from the Indian Air Force and not Air India.
Currently, the President, Vice President and the 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 new planes will be used for travel of the dignitaries only.
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.
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.
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.
(With PTI inputs)