SOURCE: INDIA TODAY
The Indian Air Force is getting ready to fly India’s top three dignitaries — the President, the Vice-President, and the Prime Minister. Unlike in the past, when both the Indian Air Force and national carrier Air India would fly the three VVIPs, henceforth it will only be the former that will be engaged in these services. This could possibly be because of plans to disinvest Air India, some sources suggested.
India Today TV has learnt that IAF will be operating the two newly-refurbished Boeing 777 that will be commissioned for VVIP services in the month of August. The new aircraft were expected to be commissioned by July, but they were delayed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Initially, Air India pilots will be flying alongside Air Force pilots as only the AI pilots have spent man-hours on the wide-bodied airliner.
In the process, Air India pilots will help their IAF counterparts clock sufficient flying hours on the B777 before “handing it over” to the latter, sources within the national carrier told India Today TV. Ground handling of the aircraft will remain with Air India, as before.
The national carrier invited applications on May 15 from its B777 Commanders, Line Training Captains (LTC), Type Rating Instructors and Designated Examiners for “hybrid operations with the IAF”.
The letter, which India Today TV has in its possession, says that the pilots will be on deputation with Alliance Air for SESF or ‘Special Extra Section Flights’ which refers to VVIP aircraft.
So far, 40 of Air India’s best pilots have been shortlisted for the job. Officials at Air India have confirmed that a group of 15-20 of these 40 senior-most pilots at the airline will finally land themselves the job.
Earlier, the VVIPs flew in B747-400s that were also flown by Air India pilots and B737s, flown by the IAF, used for short-haul flights.
According to Air India’s invitation to its pilots, those selected will continue to be on the payrolls of Air India drawing salaries, allowance and annual increments as entitled to them.
Apart from the other benefits that they will be entitled to, the pilots will get a deputation allowance of 10 per cent of their basic pay, guaranteed 70 hours of flying allowance along with overtime, fixed layover allowance of $1200 per month, and LTC/Instructor/Examiner allowance as per applicable rates.
The invitation categorically states that “the pilots will undertake only IAF flight duties and shall undertake Air India flights only for the purpose of meeting license currency requirements if needed.”
The deputation period has been stipulated to be two years, as per the invitation to apply.
So far, Indian Air Force sources have confirmed four of their pilots have been trained, and another group was in the process of getting trained when the Covid-19 outbreak halted plans. They hope to re-commence training soon, those privy to developments told India Today TV.
The two aircraft that will now be flying the VVIPs are refurbished B777-300ER. According to open-source intelligence inputs, the aircraft are not more than 2-3 years old and are part of Air India fleet.
These aircraft were sent to Dallas in the United States for military-grade upgradation. Experts say the aircraft will have the capability to counter missile attacks, and the features will be no less than those on the US President’s jet, Air Force One.
The current VVIP planes, the ageing B747s known as ‘Air India One’, lack these enhanced features. They are also employed in regular commercial operations by Air India. The new aircraft though will be exclusively dedicated to flying the VVIPs.
Recently, a photograph emerged on the internet, clicked by a photographer Andy Golf who claimed to have caught one of the two aircraft mid-flight from San Bernardino to Fort Worth in the United States.India Today TV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the photograph but Air India sources quipped that it’d be best to wait to see the aircraft as they touch down in India because even the livery on the alleged aircraft, they claimed, appeared incomplete.