The government has chosen the ultra long-haul Boeing 777-300 (extended range) aircraft to replace the ageing B747s that serve as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Air India One fleet.
AI has a fleet of 12 B777s, out of which two would be transferred to the defence ministry for VVIP use, a senior AI official said. “The decision was taken at a recent meeting between defence and aviation ministry officials and attended by top AI brass,” the official said.
In a significant departure from the past and on the lines of the US President’s Air Force One fleet, the two B777s once handed over to the defence ministry won’t be used for commercial operations by AI at all. At present, the B747s are deployed for commercial operations by AI when not in use for VVIP flights.
“An in-principle decision has been taken to transfer two B777s to the VIP fleet,” an AI spokesperson told HT. The planes in the VIP fleet are used by the Prime Minister and the President.
According to discussions, the government will buy out the two planes from AI, sources said.
“The planes would need extensive modifications and done up according to VIP requirements. It would also be fitted with sophisticated communication equipment and security kits for which certification would be needed from Boeing,” the official said.
“Other modalities are being worked out in consultation with Boeing officials. The transfer (of the planes) would not take place before the second half of 2015-16,” another senior AI official said.
As part of the arrangement being worked out, the aircraft would be maintained by the defence ministry with help from AI engineers, and pilots and cabin crew might be requisitioned from AI depending on requirement, sources said.
The five B747s are around 20 years old. The B777s were inducted by AI between 2009 and 2010 and the two that would be transferred would have had the least number of landings.
“On most international routes we are operating the B787s while the B777s are used only for non-stop flights to North America. Once the B787s come in, we will have surplus capacity,” he added.