A custom-made B777 aircraft, which will be used to fly the President, Vice President and the Prime Minister, is going to arrive from the US in India today, said government officials.
The plane was scheduled to be delivered by aircraft manufacturer Boeing to Air India in August but the delivery was delayed due to technical reasons, the officials noted.
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.
Air India One, which is the call sign of the aircraft, will land at the Delhi airport from Texas at around 3 pm this afternoon, they stated.
Another custom-made B777 plane for the travel of VVIPs is likely to be received from Boeing during a later date, they noted.
It was expected that the delivery of these two planes, which are earmarked for VVIP travel only, would be done by July. However, due to COVID-19, their delivery has been delayed by a few months.
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 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.
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