Indian Air Force may fly PM's aircraft after Air India sale

Though any aircraft that carries the President and the PM uses the call-sign “Air India One”, in popular perception it is the Air India Boeing 747 for which the moniker is usually used.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) might own and operate the aircraft used by the President and the prime minister (PM) in long-distance travel after the privatisation of Air India, a top government official said on Wednesday.

At present, an Air India Boeing 747 is used by the President and the PM for long-duration, transcontinental flights, while the IAF’s Air Headquarters Communication Squadron operates a number of Boeing Business Jets, other executive jets, and helicopters for travel within the country and to neighbouring nations.

Though any aircraft that carries the President and the PM uses the call-sign “Air India One”, in popular perception it is the Air India Boeing 747 for which the moniker is usually used, as it flies them on official state visits.

The 747 flies normal routes when not flying Air India One duties. Before flying the President or PM, it is retrofitted with special interiors, state-of-the-art communication systems and is said to carry defensive aid and counter-measure systems.

It is the future of this aircraft, or its replacement, that hangs in the balance once the national carrier is privatised.

“We have to see what needs to be done, whether new planes need to be bought. The air force will take over these duties,” the official said.

It has been reported that the government plans to replace the ageing Boeing 747 with Boeing 777s. There is a possibility that these will not only be operated by the IAF but also owned by it. Such a decision will involve multiple departments, including the Prime Minister’s Office, and the civil aviation and defence ministries.

In June, the Cabinet gave in-principle approval for disinvesting stake in state-owned Air India. The government has set up a group of ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. It will decide how much stake will be sold and the process of disinvestment.

Some of the issues that the GoM will deliberate upon are how to tackle the unsustainable portion of Air India’s debt, eligibility criteria for bidders, hiving-off assets to a shell company, and disinvestment of the airline’s profit-making subsidiaries.
An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that though owned by Air India, the 747 is operated by IAF pilots and technical crew. The error is regretted

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel