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Tuesday, Apr 02, 2002

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PM to fly IA, Air India during S-E Asia visit

Ashwini Phadnis

NEW DELHI, April 1

IN a departure from the past, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is to utilise aircraft from both Air India and Indian Airlines during the forthcoming three-nation South-East Asia visit.

Sources told Business Line that while Mr Vajpayee is to use an AI Boeing 747 aircraft for the long haul journey between India and Singapore, for the shorter journey between Singapore and Cambodia, the Prime Minister's entourage would utilise an IA aircraft.

The IA aircraft will transport the Prime Minister's entourage from Cambodia to Bangkok from where Mr Vajpayee will board an AI aircraft for the journey back to Delhi. The Prime Minister is scheduled to leave Delhi towards the end of this week for the three-nation tour. The decision to utilise the aircraft of the two airlines has been taken for "operational reasons," sources said.

Official sources maintained that the decision to offer aircraft from both the airlines would not affect the operations of the two state-owned carriers.

"The aircrafts are being chartered out and so they are commercial flights. Besides, it is a privilege for the airline of any country to fly its Prime Minister," sources pointed out.

Generally, when the Prime Minister travels abroad, an AI aircraft is provided. And, a Boeing 737 from the fleet, maintained by the Indian Air Force, is used to transport VVIPs, including the Prime Minister for travel within the country.

The Government has already started the process of selecting suitable aircraft to transport VVIPs with January 15 being the last date for submission of Request for Proposal (RFP) for sale of such jets.

The Government is likely to acquire up to three jets for transporting the VVIPs. While there is no official confirmation, industry sources indicated that the Government is looking at aircraft, which will be able to fly within the country and to international destinations close by.

The Government is said to be examining both the Boeing Business Jet, more popularly called the BBJ, and the Airbus Corporate Jet, or the ACJ. The new aircraft, which are likely to cost around $40-45 million each, are to be chosen after comparing a variety of issues such as how much distance the plane can travel, its landing capabilities and also the issue of security.

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