The arrival of specially modified Boeing 777 aircraft part of the Air India One fleet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been delayed due to “operational issues”, officials aware of the development said.
“The delivery of the aircraft was scheduled for August 25 but has been delayed due to certain operational issues. It may now take two to three weeks more to deliver,” a senior government official said requesting anonymity.
The Centre had sent a team of senior officials from the Indian Air Force and Air India for escorting the aircraft back to India and assessing the technical requirements, a second official said.
The government has planned to procure two such specially modified Boeing-777 aircraft, capable of countering missile threats with its own missile defence system, called the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) and Self-Protection Suites (SPS).
The modified aircrafts were set to match the US President’s Air Force One in terms of security measures.
‘Air India One’ is the call sign of any aircraft with the President or Prime Minister of India on board. The aircraft is operated as a VVIP flight by the Indian Air Force.
Air India One, the highly customized wide-bodied Boeing 777-300 ERs, meant exclusively for the Indian Prime Minister, President and the Vice-President, is set to land in Delhi by early next week.
When contacted by HT, Air India spokesperson said: “We would not like to comment on this.” Boeing India’s spokesperson also declined to comment on the matter.
The planes will come equipped with self-protection suites (SPS) consisting of aircraft infrared countermeasures, advanced integrated defensive electronic warfare suite and counter-measures dispensing system to protect them from inbound missiles, Hindustan Times had reported on June 4.
Air India had sent a pair of new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to a Boeing facility in Dallas to be refurbished for VVIP travel, including installation of missile defence systems worth USD 190 million. Aircraft records from open source websites showed both jets were less than 3 years old and have been sparingly used.
The new long-haul aircraft will be used exclusively by PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
At present the three dignitaries fly Air India’s Boeing-747 planes that the state-run airline deploys on commercial flights. These are temporarily reconfigured for the dignitaries when they need to travel, with the call sign changing to Air India One.
The Boeing-747 planes that are chartered from Air India for use by the three dignitaries are two decades old.
The modified aircraft will also have ‘Bharat’ and India written over it along with the Ashoka emblem.
The new planes have been configured to give PM Modi some generous office space, meeting rooms, a wide array of communication systems and a section for handling medical emergencies. The aircraft can fly between the US and India without having to stop for refueling.