Prez, PM’s 2nd special plane takes off for Delhi, will land today
The second of the two Boeing 777 aircraft extensively modified for President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi travel will arrive in national capital Delhi on Saturday, people familiar with the matter said.
The first aircraft, also configured to give the dignitaries some generous office space and meeting rooms landed in Delhi on 1 October. The two aircraft - Boeing 777-300 ERs - had joined Air India’s fleet in 2018 and had been sent to a Boeing facility in Dallas for customisation.
The two planes have missile defence systems that are touted to be on a par with the US President’s Air Force One, two identical Boeing 747-200B series aircraft that are scheduled to be replaced in 2024. The two upgraded Boeing 747s are expected to cost the Pentagon a whopping $4.6 billion (Rs 34,044.6 crore) by the time they are ready to fly the next President.
The new long-haul aircraft, which can fly non-stop to the United States, is India’s first set of dedicated aircraft for the three dignitaries. So long, the government would requisition the Air India’s planes every time any of the three dignitaries had to travel abroad. The state-run airline ended up configuring the plane for VVIP travel, creating space for a make-shift office and sleeping area for the prime minister after removing the seats from one portion of the aircraft.
The two aircraft were earlier scheduled to be delivered in August but the date had to be pushed due to what were described as “certain operational issues”. They will be flown by pilots drawn from Air India as well as the Indian Air Force.
The planes 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.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which had notified Congress about its decision to sell the defence system earlier this year, had put its cost at about $ 190 million. It had explained its decision, underlining that the sale would improve India’s capability to deter regional threats and facilitate “a more robust capability into areas of increased missile threats.”