Friday, 5 December 2014

Air India wants govt to quickly finalize next VVIP aircraft..........

NEW DELHI: Air India has asked the inter-ministerial group (IMG) set up to find a replacement to the almost 25-year-old Boeing 747s used to fly the president and prime minister as AI One to expeditiously reach a conclusion. The airline, which had earlier proposed Boeing 777-300 extended range (ER) as a possible successor to the Jumbo Jet, is supposed to take a decision on three B-777s that it is supposed to shortly take delivery of from the US major. 

Sources say unless the IMG decides in favor of the B-777 300 ER as the next long haul VVIP aircraft, AI will not take these planes. Instead, the airline will convert this order to the shorter range Boeing 737s or medium range 787 Dreamliners which will be commercially more beneficial to the airline than the long haul plane which can fly nonstop to America. 

"The old Boeing 747s being used today for long international flights by the PM are perfectly safe to fly but due to their advanced age, they are fuel guzzlers. Also, they can't fly nonstop to distant places like the Americas. During the 10-year-long Manmohan Singh's prime ministerial period, the one-stop flight to distant destinations worked well as the then PM was more comfortable with a break on a long journeys. PM Modi, on the other hand, is extremely energetic and can do long journeys nonstop without any visible fatigue. So, the IMG has to now decide which plane to pick," said a highly placed source. 

A panel of secretaries of top ministries like defence, finance, aviation, external affairs, home along with brass of the special protection group is currently deliberating whether the successor to the original queen of the skies, the B-747 Jumbo Jet, should be twin engine or four engine aircraft. And whether, the plane should be operated and maintained by AI or Indian Air Force. 

Till some time back, AI was proposing the B-777 300 ER as the successor to the Jumbo Jets. But it has now told the IMG that the technical reliability of a twin engine plane like the B-777 versus a four-engine one like the 747 can be compared by the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA). AI is now awaiting a decision from the IMG so that it can accordingly decide on the delivery of the three B-777s. 

The engine choice is being considered from security angle. The directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) will provide the technical data to showcase the reliability and safety of both twin-engine and four-engine aircraft. 

Indian Air Force 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 neighboring countries. "The government will decide whether the new aircraft should be with AI or IAF. If they decide in favor 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.