Majority of us are aware of Air Force One but have you heard about Air India One? If not, now is the time know about Air India One. Air India One is not a particular aircraft but it is call sign of any aircraft with Prime Minister or President of India on-board. Air India One is operated under the charge of Indian Airforce.
India’s VVIP flights are operated by flag carrier Air India for the President, vice president and the PM. The flight number is always AI 1 (for Air India One). It’s a Boeing 747-400 aircraft. Air India has five of these.
The flight is monitored from the Palam Air Force Station. Other countries en route are intimated about the schedule of the VVIP flight.
When the aircraft is fitted with the VVIP configuration about a week before the trip, the demanding men of the Special Protection Group take over. They practically take the aircraft apart and peer inside every panel, duct and instrument. The SPG conducts swab tests on every switch and lever in the cockpit to rule out any possibility of sabotage.
They test the fuel before the aircraft is fuelled. They test the water before it is loaded on the plane. And of course, there are weapons on board.
Amenities and Services on board Air India One:
When a VVIP flight is scheduled, one of the five B747 is pulled out of regular passenger service and fitted with a VVIP configuration that Boeing sells separately.
Air India One has got a VVIP suite specially procured from Boeing. Air India One has a special lounge for upto six people a big conference room with satellite phone. There are about 34 business class seats for media persons on board Air India One.
There are two things that set this VVIP flight apart from every day flights. Firstly is that you get the kind of onboard service that money can’t buy. It’s well-organized, leisurely and delightful. On board dignitaries and guests are served with lavish food and drinks of their wish. The other bit is that you can smoke in a specially established demarcated zone at the back of the aircraft.
The cost of refurbishing these aircraft is more than 200 crores for each aircraft.
Safety facilities on board Air India One:
The onboard electronics include about 238 miles of wiring (twice the amount you’d find 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 other security instruments are undisclosed by the Indian Air Force. The ones that are known are:
- Radar warning receiver devices: Their primary purpose is to issue a warning when a radar signal that might be a threat is detected.Audible tones are usually assigned to each type of threat or type of radar and are fairly distinctive. The more serious the threat, the more shrill the tone. For example, an active missile seeker might be represented by a high pitched, almost continuous trill, whereas the radar of an obsolete fighter type or SAM system might be a low pitched, intermittent buzz.
- Missile-approach warning sensors: A sensor detects attacking missiles. Its automatic warning cues the pilot to make a defensive maneuver and deploy the available countermeasures to disrupt missile tracking.
- 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.
About AIR INDIA ONE Pilots:
At Air India, there is an unofficial panel of about eight pilots who fly the VVIP flights. The plane is flown by two pilots but VVIP flight must have four pilots on board at all times. For the pilots flying the VVIP planes, it’s a matter of prestige. Over the years, the VVIPs get to know them well.
These pilots of Boeing 747 are going to receive better training in coming months.
Air India is upgrading the flight simulator used to train pilots of the Boeing 747 jumbo which ferries VVIPs in the coming few months. The simulator’s visual training module is being upgraded using the latest technology from American avionics major Rockwell Collins.
These B-747 pilots are going to be the best trained in the world, at par with the training given to Air Force One pilots. New take-off: Air India One fleet to be revamped.
The five Boeing 747s being used as Air India One today have been around for 25 years old!
These are textbook perfect for long international flights as they have four engines and are safe to fly but on the other hand are fuel guzzlers. Another down side is that they can’t fly nonstop to distant places like the Americas.
The government has chosen the ultra long-haul Boeing 777-300 (extended range) aircraft to replace the ageing B747s that serve as the current Prime Minister’s Air India One fleet.
AI has 15 B-777s in its fleet. Two of the youngest B-777 300 Extended Range (ER) aircraft from this fleet will be transferred to the defence ministry for VVIP use by the end of this year. These two planes joined the Air India fleet in 2010 and have been flying for almost five years.
To make these planes India’s very own Air Force One, the planes would need extensive modifications and done up according to VVIP requirements. They would also be retrofitted with sophisticated communication equipment and security kits for which certification would be required from Boeing.
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.
Defense authorities will give the written down value of these planes, estimated to be $100-105 million each, to AI, which will in turn use the money to pay off the aircraft loan for these two aircraft.
These two planes will then be sent to Boeing in US for VVIP Retrofitting and high-end security fixtures like anti-missile systems.