Two gleaming new Boeing-777s will replace the over 25-year-old B-747 jumbo jets used by our president, VP and prime minister on their long haul international flights. The Budget has set aside Rs 4,469.5 crore for these two planes. Air India flew in first of these two B 777-300 extended range (ER) last week from Seattle to Delhi and the second one is also expected shortly.
Since AI is soon going to be sold off, these two VVIP planes will be handed over to some other agency like the Indian Air Force. The two aircraft will be retrofitted with the state-of-the-art security and communication systems that will bring them at par with Air Force One. The retrofitted planes are likely to be ready for use in over a year.
There is a practice for VVIP flights that an aircraft is kept on standby in case AI One develops a snag. The US President, in fact, flies with two identical Air Force Ones with only his security team knowing which one is the president on. “The Boeing 747s used currently for long flights by the top VVIPs may be old but they are perfectly safe and comfortable to use. So there was no hurry to replace them. The only thing the Jumbos can’t do is fly nonstop to North America. They need to do so with a stopover in Europe and being old, are not exactly fuel-savers. The new and fuel efficient B 777-300 ER will be able to fly nonstop on trans-Atlantic/Pacific routes to North America,” said a source.
AI has five B747s in its fleets that are maintained mainly for VVIP flights. The airline flies them on nearby international and some domestic routes. The airline will phase its trusted old planes once the replacement comes. The two planes that will replace them are part of the order for 50 Boeing wide body aircraft AI had placed in in 2005.