An ambitious project of creating a dedicated fleet of aircraft for the Prime Minister’s foreign travel has hit rough weather. Last year, the government had proposed to take away two Boeing-777s from Air India’s fleet to be dedicated for the PM’s use abroad, on the lines of the US President’s Air Force One.
Air India and the Indian Air Force have locked horns over the expensive responsibility of maintaining and servicing the aircraft. Presently, India’s prime minister uses two Air India’s Boeing 747s for foreign visits. These planes are over two decades old.
Air India flies them commercially when the PM or President are not travelling abroad. The proposed aircraft will possess high-tech security gadgets, including an anti missile defence system, radar warning receivers and missile-approach warning systems. It can also refuel mid air in case of an emergency.
Though a year has passed since the national carrier agreed to hand over two Boeing-777-ER aircraft to the Indian Air Force’s Communication Squadron; responsibility for their serviceability and maintenance is still unclear. The aircraft have to be sent back to the manufacturer for modifications as per the changes asked for by the Special Protection Group. Who wil pay for it?
“Both Air India and IAF have to dedicate a large number of personnel and also create a budget for maintenance, which incurs heavy cost” said a top government official, privy to the development.
Sources said that a panel of key officials from the ministers of defence, finance, aviation and external affairs ministries along with SPG will meet to address the issue.
PM Narendra Modi has made 27 foreign trips since taking charge. IAF has a fleet designated for VVIPs under its Communication squadrons, which has three BBJs, four Embraer jets and Mi-17 choppers for his tours at home and to neighbouring countries.