Flight Plan

VT - The colonial legacy etched on Indian aircraft

PRINCE MATHEWS THOMAS | Updated on January 20, 2018

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Though there are fresh demands to replace the national code, the chances are slim

Earlier this month, BJP parliamentarian Tarun Vijay asked in Rajya Sabha why Indian aircraft are still registered after the code VT. The code, he “said, “was a reflection of the colonial rule,” and added, “It is unfortunate that for so many years we carried the British tag.”


What is VT? It stands for Victorian, or Viceroy Territory and is the nationality code that each aircraft registered in India needs to carry. The code is easily recognisable on a plane’s body, just before the rear exit door and above the windows. All the domestic airlines, from IndiGo to Air Pegusus have the prefix, which is followed by alphabets that define the aircraft type.


Undivided India got the prefix in 1929, and codes starting with V, were once used by all British colonies. And it has remained on Indian aircraft even after nearly 90 years. “How can his title represent India in any sector? Whatever new code we get, that is closest to our choice, we must get that and discard the use of VT immediately," says Vijay, as reported by a news website.


But it is not so easy. In fact, it might never be possible. Back in 2004, the Civil Aviation Ministry, under the NDA government, had initiated efforts to replace the code, which is allotted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO.


But discussions with the ICAO didn’t help much. An Indian Express report from 2008 says, “The Ministry is keen to shed this colonial remnant and replace it with codes like IN for India or BH for Bharat or even HI for Hindustan. But none of these is available. While the B series is with China, the I series is with Italy. The options available are X or V and that has no Indian resonance.”


Later in 2010, while replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told said, “An attempt was made with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and after evaluating all the options, it has been decided not to replace the existing mark VT as no other code which distinctly identifies with India is available.”


It is unclear if the country had an opportunity to change the code in 1947, after the Independence. Pakistan got a new one - AP. Hong Kong changed its code from VR-H to B-H, after it was handed over to China in 1997.  


So while we have been renaming our cities (Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai) and our roads, it might be just a tad more difficult when it comes to the aircraft registration code. What one could do is to make the most of it, like AirAsia India. Last year, the low cost carrier named its sixth aircraft VT-APJ, in memory of APJ Abdul Kalam on the 84th birth anniversary of the former President and scientist.

Published on May 31, 2016

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