The Prime Minister and other VVIPs like defence minister and home minister now have refurbished Russian Mi-17 V5 helicopters to ferry them around.
These helicopters were modified at the Indian Air Force”s repair depot in Chandigarh to meet the requirements of the VVIPs since after the Agusta Westland choppers contracted during the UPA government were scrapped in the wake of allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
IAF sources said the modified choppers were certified for the task early this month by the Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness and they have been now moved to the Palam Air Force Station in Delhi to be part of the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron, which operates a mix of fixed and rotor wing aircraft for the VVIP transport.
So far the IAF was using modified Mi-8 helicopters, but these have outlived their useful life after being in service for over three decades. Sources said it was left with no option except to modify existing helicopters with it after its plan of inducting the Italian Agusta Westland helicopters, three of which were already received, crashed due to allegations leading to the defence ministry scrapping the deal.
The modifications carried out in Mi-17s include refurbishment, air conditioning, soundproofing of the passenger cabin, fixing passenger seats alike those in commercial airliners, a small toilet and retrofitting of requisite security, communication and safety equipment.
IAF sources said Mi-17 is an upgraded and more powerful version of the Mi-8. India has procured several versions of the Mi-17 over the past two decades, with more inductions expected in the near future.