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 ₹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 $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 ₹60,000 crore. However, the process has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.