Known for her love for flying, former president Pratibha Patil used the three VVIP Boeing Business jets, purchased at a cost of Rs. 312 crore each, more than twice the combined use by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice-President Hamid Ansari in last three years.
The details about the domestic air travel of the country's top leadership have been provided by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in response to an RTI query by activist SC Agrawal."The three Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) aircrafts were procured by the Indian Air Force for use by Very Very Important Persons (VVIPS) between August 2008 and January 2009 at a total cost of Rs. 936 crore ($161, 425, 567)," the IAF stated in its reply.
Providing details of the 466 VIP sorties by these planes within the country between January 2009 and May this year, the IAF stated that ex-president Patil flew 252 times, Vice-President Ansari for 106 and PM for 108 times.
The IAF has stated it follows the directions issued by the ministry of defence to "provide free airlift to the president and their entourage according to the government of India/ministry of defence letter dated 6 January 1981."
The Rashtrapati Bhawan had earlier strongly defended the foreign visits of Patil, when news reports emerged in March this year about Rs. 205 crore having been spent on such trips.
"Such visits were undertaken after careful appraisal and recommendation by the Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of External Affairs," it had said in a statement.
These Boeing 737-700 aircrafts were specially configured for the VVIPs and were modeled on the lines of Air Force One planes used by the President of United States.
These 60 seater BBJ planes for Indian VIPs, have a self protection suite against incoming missile threats and have enhanced ground proximity warning systems. They are also fitted with intruder detection systems.