Air India One - That's How Indian VVIPs Fly !!
The first question that comes to mind is if there is a special plane similar to the two planes popularly known as Air Force One in India which carries our PM and the President. Well, there is no specific answer to it as Yes or No. For short haul flights, we have three Boeing Business Jets (BBJs) which have been specifically procured, designed, equipped and maintained for travel of the Prime Minister and the President. One BBJ is reserved for the two dignitaries at the top of hierarchy of Indian Government, second for other dignitaries while the third is kept on standby to act as backup if required. However, these jets have limited range and hence for long haul intercontinental flights, there is a provision to pull in a special aircraft from the fleet of Air India and configure for VIP travel. Let’s look at both these rides in some more detail and understand the provisions and set up of these air crafts.
As far as the operations are concerned, any VVIP flight is supposed to have four pilots at any point of time and are monitored in real-time by personnel at the Palam Air Force Station. During any international travel plan, all the countries en-route the destination are advised about the VVIP flight and necessary provisions put in place to handle any unforeseen emergencies. Every aspects of operating such flights are considered in thorough detail and only the best and experienced of the available pilots are allowed to fly on these journeys. Equally thorough is the security considerations are for such flights. As soon as the journey is planned, trained commandoes from the SPG join the Air Force personnel to guard these planes. Every corner of the aircraft is searched and swab tests conducted to find traces of poisonous substances. Fuel and spare parts for the flight are inspected and sealed to prevent any possible sabotage. While in air, surrounding skies are kept clear of the traffic and fighter jets are kept in standby mode to respond to any threat to the plane.
One of the luxuries of these flights is the kind of onboard service that money can't buy. It's efficient, unhurried and charming. If you refuse dessert, the stewardess, who will address you by name, will urge you to try a little. Onboard facilities including a menu are decided based on the preference of the person in the private cabin, however, everyone gets to choose from a generous list of items and seldom one sees the crew nodding in no for a request. Another luxury extended to the VVIPs is the opportunity to fulfill their whims and fancies which otherwise can only be dreamt of. One such passenger wanted to have a glimpse of the Pamir Mountains on the Afghan side of the Himalayas and captain of the flight had to take special permission from the authorities in Afghanistan who obviously were more than happy to cater to the special request of the guest from India allowing a perfect view of the “roof of the world”.
I realize that the facilities available for air travel for Indian leaders are in no way lesser than the ones offered by the well-known picture perfect Air Force One. Indian forces provide the best possible comfort and security to the guests and actually have a much challenging job than their counterparts in US. There only one person is in charge who’s needs are to be catered to while in India we have at least three persons (President, Vice-President and the Prime Minister) who are to be accorded with the same standards of services ensuring each one's tastes are adhered to and requirements fulfilled. Moreover, rather than the aircraft, it is about the guests that these flights carry elicited from the fact that any aircraft carrying the dignitary is given that call sign and it is not attached to the plane as such. Still we do not have a very prominent symbolism attached to these provisions partly probably because we still are a developing nation with people suffering from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and other similar ills and it does not politically or otherwise makes sense to flaunt these luxuries. They are better kept under wraps to ensure those who enjoy these continue doing so.
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