India’s wait for two of its dedicated VVIP aircraft is about to get over as the specially made hi-tech aircraft is set to land in Delhi on October 1. Top airline sources said the aircraft will be handed over by Boeing after conducting test flights and teams have already flown to Boeing headquarters at Chicago to take delivery of these special aircraft.
The arrival of Air India One from the United States (US), which will be used exclusively for the prime minister, president and vice-president, went through a series of delays. It will be accompanied by a team comprising Air India’s engineers and pilots and the Indian Air Force.
“The test flights are expected to be completed by September 25, after which the aircraft manufacturer will hand over the two aircraft to us. The two aircraft will take off by September 30 and will land in Delhi by October 1. Both aircraft are expected to take-off with a gap of around 20 minutes on September 30,” said a highly placed source on conditions of anonymity. Air India did not comment on the development.
The first delivery of these VVIP aircraft was scheduled in July but was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. It was then scheduled to be delivered around mid- September. While one of the two aircraft was to be delivered mid-September, the second aircraft was to be delivered by September end. These aircraft deliveries were however delayed after a team from Air India that had flown to the US for taking the aircraft’s delivery made some technical suggestions.
These Boeing 777 aircraft will have state-of-the-art missile defence systems called Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) and Self Protection Suites (SPS).
The customised aircraft will be operated by the Indian Air Force pilots while flying VVIPs. For this, Air India has trained four IAF pilots. In May this year, around 15 shortlisted senior-most Air India pilots were deputed for two years to operate these ‘special extra section flights’ which refers to these VVIP flights. As the national carrier’s pilots are well experienced to operate B777, initially they will be flying along with IAF pilots and later IAF pilots will take over the complete flying operations.
In 2018, these two aircraft that were sent to the Boeing facility for the retrofitting purpose were a part of the airline’s commercial fleet.
Currently, Air India operates its Boeing 747 aircraft for the VVIP travel. However, these aircraft are not exclusively used to fly dignitaries. They have been utilised for commercial purposes when they are not flying VVIPs.