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COVID-19 delays delivery of India’s first VVIP planes

The wait for the country’s first-ever VVIP planes has become slightly longer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing has sought an extension of two months from Air India to finish renovating two of the airline’s B 777-300 ER planes for use by the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister.

The two brand new planes joined the Air India fleet in early 2018 and returned to Boeing’s headquarters in Dallas Fort-Worth in the U.S. six months later so that the passenger aircraft could be completely overhauled. The first of these two planes was scheduled to return to India by June 30 and the other by July 30. But they will now return on August 30 and September 30 respectively.

“The retrofitment on the two planes is over but regulatory clearances from the U.S. aviation watchdog, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), are pending. The State of Texas requires mandatory quarantine of 14 days for all incoming passengers, which has delayed these approvals. There have also been some manpower problems and that is why Boeing has requested for an extension of two months .... There will also be three or four test flights conducted before the plane is delivered,” said a government official familiar with these discussions.

The revamped aircraft will include a press conference room, a conference room for VVIPs, a suite comprising a bedroom and a bathroom. In order to protect the country’s topmost dignitaries from aerial attacks, the aircraft will also be equipped with missile warning sensors and counter measures dispensing defence system, which are part of the large aircraft infrared countermeasures (LAIRCM) self-protection suites (SPS) provided by the U.S. government for $190 million. This will be the first time the top leadership of the country will have planes for their exclusive use.

So far, the government borrowed Air India’s Boeing 747 planes for foreign trips of these three dignitaries. Over the past three years, the government has paid ₹4,632 crore towards these planes and bought them from Air India.

Last week, a photograph of one of the two planes in its new livery went viral on social media. The photograph, attributed to Andy Egloff, showed the main body or fuselage of the Boeing 777-300 aircraft painted white, its undercarriage or belly painted grey.

Once these planes land in India, Air India will de-register them and hand them over to the Indian Air Force. The planes will then be entered into the IAF’s registry and get a K-series registration number given to military aircraft.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 4:00:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/covid-19-delays-delivery-of-indias-first-vvip-planes/article31773400.ece

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