In his first air force (IAF) chopper ride after the AgustaWestland scam broke out, President Pranab Mukherjee will stay clear of the controversial Italian AW101 helicopters.
The President will visit Rajasthan’s Pokhran on February 22 as the chief guest in the ongoing IAF firepower demonstration codenamed ‘Iron Fist’.
Official sources suggest that his office had informally enquired to see that the AW101 chopper is not used to ferry him from Jaisalmer airbase to the Pokhran desert—the venue of the exercise.
IAF officially maintains that the AW101s had not been assigned to VVIP duties yet as pilots and crews were training and undergoing conversion to operate the new platform.
The Indian Air Force has inducted three AgustaWestland AW101.The first chopper joined the air force fleet in December 2012, while the third was inducted in January 2013.
Mukherjee was the finance minister when the proposal to buy 12 choppers was finalized.
Mukherjee will fly from Delhi in a service aircraft to Jaisalmer. He is expected to spend just a few hours at Pokhran and return to Delhi by evening.
The IAF currently flies VVIPS such as the President, Prime Minister and Vice President in Russian Mi-8 helicopters that were inducted in the 1970s.
At the Iron Fist exercise, the air force will demonstrate its operational capabilities by day, dusk and night at Pokharan Range, the largest air–to-ground weapons firing range for training in delivery of heavy armament, near Jaisalmer.