When President Barack Obama arrives in India on January 25, it will be in Air Force One- that jetliner so advanced and iconic that it has been granted leading man status in several films. In India, Air Force One will be treated very much as a VVIP – it will be accorded the same protocol in Indian air space that is set aside for the President of India and the Prime Minister.
That means that as soon as Air Force One enters the Indian airspace, it will get priority over all other air traffic – simply put, any other plane flying that time will have to wait until Air Force One touches down.
The President’s plane – a Boeing 747-200 or Jumbo Jet – has 4,000 square feet of space spread over three storeys and is equipped with a conference room, presidential suite, a medical suite and private cabins for senior aides of the President. At any given point of time, the food galley can feed up to 1,00 people simultaneously.
The state of the art aircraft comes with cutting edge technology like mid-air refueling and is equipped with special defense systems that can ward off a heat-seeking missile. It is constructed to function as a mobile command centre for the President, the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, in the event of any attack while the President is away.
While in India, the plane will not get a special air corridor or air route. “We will ensure that the plane lands safely and without any kind of problems. It does not require any airspace closure. When the US President is departing, that’s when we may have to hold other air traffic,” said a senior official in the Civil Aviation ministry.
In fact, there will be no prior notice or NOTAM (Note to Airmen) issued about the movement of Air Force One -that means that only those who are authorized to handle Air Force One’s movement will know about its flight details.
Though it has not yet been revealed when exactly President Obama will arrive, he is expected to touch down in the early hours of Sunday. Official sources say there will also be an alternate flight plan to deal with contingencies like bad weather and heavy fog. Air Force One, the world’s most sophisticated aircraft, is equipped to land in almost zero visibility conditions. However, operations at Delhi airport have to be suspended if runway visibility drops below 50 meters. And that will necessitate an alternate destination where there is no fog.
Sources say though the US embassy officials have been in touch with Indian authorities, an alternative landing venue will be disclosed closer to his arrival date. “Mumbai is one place where there will be no fog at any point but we have not been told of any alternative venue at this stage,” said the official.
US officials will also be part of the protocol team that will coordinate Air Force One’s air traffic movement and will be allowed into the high security air traffic control tower in Delhi. However, the instructions for Air Force One pilots will be handled by Indian controllers.
President Obama is also scheduled to travel to Agra on January 27 by Air Force One. The Agra airfield is managed by the Indian Air Force and its runway can handle bigger aircraft like Air Force One.