Everything you need to know about India's fort in the sky: Air India One

In 2020, India took delivery of two new VVIP aircraft for use by the Prime Minister, President and other state officials. The two modified 777-300ERs, commonly known as "Air India One," are the nation's first dedicated VVIP wide-body fleet.
Everything you need to know about India's fort in the sky: Air India One
India's Air India One VVIP aircraft.Wikimedia Commons

In 2020, India took delivery of two new VVIP aircraft for use by the Prime Minister, President and other state officials. The two modified 777-300ERs, commonly known as "Air India One," are the nation's first dedicated VVIP wide-body fleet. These new planes have received significant cabin upgrades and have been embedded with new and advanced safety and security systems.

India has long used a fleet of four Air India 747s as its VVIP aircraft for long-haul missions. These planes usually used to remain in commercial service and were pulled out when needed for special VVIP missions. However, these jumbo jets, quite a while ago, started to show their age and lacked many dedicated features that are key to presidential aircraft.

The Indian government opted to move on from the ageing 747s to a fleet of two 777-300ERs. These 777s were originally set to go to Air India but were later chosen to serve as the new Air Indian One fleet. The two 777s were first delivered to Air India in 2018 but never entered commercial service. Instead, they were ferried to a Boeing facility in Dallas, Texas, to undergo special retrofits and modifications. The primary reason to purchase the new aircraft was to install new security and communication systems.

The Indian government began the search and selection process for new aircraft in 2016, and the Boeing 777-300ER was chosen as the new VVIP transporter. Unlike the old ones, these new aircraft are more of a military vessel than a commercial airliners as they are technically owned and operated by the Indian Air Force.

The old Air India One VVIP aircraft.
The old Air India One VVIP aircraft.Wikimedia Commons

The new Air India One will feature two new security upgrades. Firstly, large aircraft infrared countermeasures (LAIRCM) and secondly self-protection suites (SPS). These systems protect the aircraft in the event of any mid-air attacks and are similar to those found on America's Air Force Ones. The plane also features advanced electronic warfare suites. The onboard electronics of the new aircraft include around 238 miles of wires. The planes have heavy shielding to protect the wires and other critical devices from the electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear explosion.

The planes are also equipped with encrypted satellite communication systems, advanced navigation aids, advanced missile warning systems, missile deflecting shields and electronic countermeasures to protect them from ground-based or aerial threats. Also, the jets are provided with chaffs and flares to fool the enemy missiles and defend the VVIPs.

These systems are a part of a $190 million purchase by the Indian government, which required US state department approval due to the technology's sensitive nature. The planes can travel vast distances and also perform air to air refuelling. The aircraft can fly continuously for 17 hours after being fully refuelled. The Air India One can reach a top speed of 559 miles per hour.

With all these systems, Air India One is now one of the safest aircraft in the sky. Interestingly, the new jets features the flag of India on its tail and the insignia of the Indian Air Force on the rear of the fuselage. The most distinctive design feature of both the jet is the "INDIA" and "BHARAT" lettering, separated by India's state emblem, painted across the side of the aircraft. With an estimated cost of around 8,458 crore Indian rupees, these new planes are like strong forts flying through the sky and carrying Indian VVIPs across the globe.

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