Two custom-made B777 aircraft, which will be used to fly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top Indian dignitaries, are likely to be delivered by Boeing to Air India by September, senior officials said on Monday (June 8).
In October last year, government officials had said that the delivery of these two planes, which are earmarked for VVIP travel only, would be done by July.
“There has been some delay, primarily because of COVID-19. The two planes are likely to be delivered by September,” the officials said on Monday.
The two B777 aircraft will be operated by pilots of the Indian Air Force and not of Air India.
However, the new wide-body planes will be maintained by the Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL), which is a subsidiary of the Indian national carrier, the officials said.
Currently, the prime minister, the president and the vice president 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 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 ₹60,000 crore. However, the process has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We would not like to make any comment on these issues pertaining to the (aviation) ministry and the government of India,” an Air India spokesperson said in response to queries sent by PTI.
Boeing has not respond to queries on this matter.
Cash-strapped Air India has outstanding dues of over ₹822 crore towards VVIP charter flights, according to latest data provided by the national carrier to an RTI response in February.
In its RTI response provided on Wednesday to Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), who sought to know the latest data on outstanding bills of Air India, the carrier said as on November 30, 2019, ₹822 crore were pending towards VVIP charter flights.
It also said an additional ₹9.67 crore towards evacuation operations and ₹12.65 crore towards ferrying foreign dignitaries were also pending.
If outstanding bills of VVIP charter flights were not enough, the carrier had also accrued bills of ₹526.14 crore towards tickets taken on credit by government officials as on March 31, 2019, according to the reply.
Out of ₹526.14 crore, ₹236.16 crore were pending for over three years, Air India said in its response.
The airlines also said provisioned ₹281.82 crore as an accounting charge in its account books for “probable non-recovery.”
Batra had sought “updated (till the date of response), completed and detailed information (including dates and invoices)” on total pending dues towards VVIP charter flights and amounts owed by different public authorities towards Air India among other details.
The information under the RTI Act is defined as any record in any form held by or under the control of public authority which has to be furnished to an applicant within 30 days subject to exemptions under the law.
According to a response provided by the Civil Aviation ministry on December 5, 2019, a net loss of ₹8,556.35 crore (provisional) was reported by Air India.
(With inputs from agencies)