Air India One (also referred to as AI-1 or AIC001) is the call sign of any aircraft with the Prime Minister or President of India on board. Air India is the national airline of India. The aircraft is operated as VIP flight by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF's Air Headquarters Communication Squadron, based at Indira Gandhi International Airport (formerly Palam Air Force Base) in New Delhi, is in charge of operating these aircraft.
Apart from the Boeing 747-400 owned by Air India and used on international state visits, the IAF currently owns four 14 seater Embraer 135, four 20 seater Embraer 145 and three customised 46 seater Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) that have a VIP cabin and are used for VIP movement. Of these the Boeing 747s are used by either the Prime Minister, President or Vice President when on official overseas visits.
Each Embraer 135 is equipped with missile-deflecting systems, modern flight management system including global positioning system, as well as category II instrument landing system. These aircraft cost the IAF ₹14 billion (US$200 million) each. The Three BBJs, named Rajdoot, Rajhans and Rajkamal cost the IAF ₹93.4 billion (US$1.4 billion) each (₹73.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) for the actual aircraft plus an additional ₹20 billion (US$290 million) for Self Protection Suites). Self-protection suites include radar warning receivers, it also has highly trained commandos to protect the president/vice/prime minister, missile-approach warning and counter-measure systems. The aircraft has the capability to shoot chaff and flares to deviate radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles off their track along with other security tools.The other security instruments are undisclosed by the Indian Air Force.
The onboard electronics include about 238 miles of wiring (twice the amount found in a normal 747). Heavy shielding is tough enough to protect the wiring and crucial electronics from the electromagnetic pulse associated with a nuclear blast.
The President is designated VIP 1, The Vice President, VIP 2, and The Prime Minister, VIP 3. The BBJs have a four class configuration. For the President/Prime Minister, there is a separate enclosure in the aircraft which includes an office and a bedroom. Everyone aboard Air India One is required to wear a colour-coded identity card. Members of the official delegation (Joint Secretary level and above) are tagged in purple and sit in First Class while accompanying the VIPs. As they have become less cost-effective to operate, the Indian Air Force is looking forward to replace the present Boeing 747-400 with the Boeing 777-300ER. The committee is soon to take the call. The planes will be maintained by the Indian Air Force.
The government has chosen the ultra long-haul Boeing 777-300ER to replace the ageing Boeing 747s that serve as the Air India One fleet.
In a significant departure from the past and on the lines of the US President’s Air Force One fleet, the two 777s once handed over to the defence ministry won’t be used for commercial operations by AI at all. At present, the 747s are deployed for commercial operations by AI when not in use for VVIP flights.
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, in flight refuelling 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 options from Boeing were the four-engine Boeing 747 and two-engine Boeing 777 and 787. Incidentally, Air India already has both the long range (LR) and extended range (ER) versions of the Boeing 777, as well as the 787 Dreamliner. The other options are from Airbus — four-engine A340 and two-engine A330 and A350.
Before the successor to the original B-747 is found, a panel of secretaries of top ministries like defence, finance, aviation, external affairs, home along with brass of the Special Protection Group (SPG) will meet to address two key issues — whether the new plane should be two-engine or four-engine and whether AI or Indian Air Force should be operating and maintaining the plane. "There is a huge price difference in the price of twin-engine and four-engine jets. So there is the obvious financial angle," said highly placed sources.
The IAF maintains and operates a fleet of Boeing Business Jets for use by top VVIPs like President, Vice-President and Prime Minister for flying within India and to neighbouring countries. "The secretaries will decide whether the new aircraft should be with AI or IAF. If they decide in favour of the IAF, then the defence establishment will decide the successor aircraft. Else, civil aviation authorities will take a technical call on which plane is best suited for the VVIPs," said the source. The final decision will be taken by the highest echelons of the government. However given the long-distance requirement, the choice for both the defence and civil aviation authorities is going to be limited to the options from Boeing and Airbus.
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