Government officials said that a custom-built B777 aircraft, which will be used to fly the President, Vice President and Prime Minister, is scheduled to arrive in India from the US today.
Officials said the aircraft was to be delivered to Air India by aircraft manufacturer Boeing in August, but delivery was delayed due to technical reasons.
Senior officials from Air India had earlier reached the US during the first half of August to receive the plane from Boeing, they added. Air India One, the call sign of the aircraft, will land at the Delhi airport from Texas at around 3 pm on Thursday.
Another custom-built B777 aircraft for VVIP travel is likely to be sourced from Boeing, he said.
The two aircraft were expected to be delivered by July only for VVIP travel. However, due to COVID-19, their delivery has been delayed by a few months. An official said that during the VVIP visit, two B777 aircraft would be operated by pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and not Air India.
Currently, the President, Vice President, and Prime Minister fly on Air India B747 aircraft, which are signed by Air India One. Air India pilots fly these B747 aircraft to dignitaries and Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) maintains them.
When these B747 aircraft are not flying dignitaries, they are used for commercial operations by Indian national carriers. The new aircraft will only be used to visiting dignitaries.
These two aircraft were part of the commercial fleet of Air India for a few months in 2018, before they were sent to Boeing to withdraw for a VVIP trip.
The B777 aircraft will have a state-of-the-art missile defense system, called Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) and Self-Protection Suits (SPS).
In February, the US agreed to sell two defense systems to India at a cost of USD 190 million. The Center has already started the process of disinvestment of its stake in Air India, which has a debt of over Rs 60,000 crore. However, the process has been postponed due to the COVID-19 epidemic.