Keeping in mind the requirements of more long haul commitments as our diplomatic needs widen, it is strongly suggested that the newer long range Embraer Legacy 650 with extended fuel tanks may be considered. By procuring the aircraft from the same family, it will give the much needed flexibility whilst ensuring that the pilot training and maintenance infrastructure remains the same.
|Group Captain Amit Roongta (Retd)|
Air Headquarters Communication Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been synonymous with the highest level of professionalism and efficiency. It is tasked with the onerous responsibility of ferrying Indian and international VVIPs/VIPs in India and abroad.
A new chapter was added to the glorious history when four Embraers were inducted in 2005. These Embraer Legacy Business Jets added many “Firsts” to the IAF:
Also, Embraer 145 (used as AEW&C) is the first transport aircraft to be able to receive Air to Air refuelling.
The cabin height was increased to over six feet to provide extra comfort to the distinguished guests and it has a seating configuration of 14 seats (10 Business Class and four VIP seats). The four VIP seats can also be converted into flat beds. It has an inbuilt SATCOM capability allowing the pilots and passengers to make phone calls to any part of the world whilst airborne. As a Standard Operating Procedure, the DOT (Door Opening Time) was also passed through this to give prior intimation of exact time of arrival of the plane. The aircraft is also equipped with Electronic Counter Measures in case of a Missile attack.
As a pilot, it was a very different philosophy to fly a modern glass cockpit aircraft aircraft compared to the conventional aircraft we came from. For the first time we learnt about the ‘Go Around mentality’. During the training on Simulator in Paris, we were advised that “Always be prepared to go around in case the approach is not stabilised. Landing is an alternative”. Also, there was clear distinction about the ‘Area of responsibility’ of the Captain and the Co-pilot with a lot of emphasis on Crew Resource Management. These training techniques were then progressively inculcated in the entire Transport Stream of the IAF. Managing the Automation was also a challenge initially. However, the pilots adapted very well and within just a couple of months of induction, the first VVIP flight was carried out with aplomb. And soon, the first international flight was executed. As a matter of routine, flights are flown to international destinations in Asia, Europe and Africa.
I would like to highlight a special flight, showcasing the unique challenges faced by the Squadron when flying to myriad destinations, often at short notice. The task was to fly the External Affairs Minister to Pretoria in South Africa. There was a special Indo-African summit in 2015 and the Minister was to personally hand over the invitation to the South African President on behalf of our Prime Minister. Hence, the halt planned was for only a few hours in South Africa. It was a very long flight over the vast Indian Ocean with limited diversionary airfields available. The main challenges were Flight Planning due to the long distance involved and Pilot fatigue due to the long flight of 12 hours each way. After mulling all options, we decided to route from Delhi to Pretoria with two (instead of one) refuelling halts in Thiruvananthapuram and Mauritius so as to have adequate reserves of fuel in case of any in-flight contingency. Also we carried an extra set of pilots. The first set of pilots flew from Delhi to Mauritius where they got off. The second set flew from Mauritius to South Africa and back to Mauritius. In the meanwhile, the first set of pilots had gotten adequate rest and then they flew back from Mauritius to Delhi (via Thiruvananthapuram). Thus, keeping in mind the ethos of safety and efficiency, the task was completed without a hitch.
The Embraer Legacy Business Jet underwent a change from the original paint scheme to make it appear sleeker and more aerodynamic and has also now been equipped with Electronic Flight Bags. However, as the decades have passed, the once state-of-the-art aircraft requires an upgrade. A second Flight Management System (FMS) will enable it to fly over remote and oceanic routes seamlessly providing the much needed redundancy. This has already been installed in the aircraft last year. Also, a SATCOM with higher data capability will provide on board internet services.
But most importantly, a country of the size and stature of India definitely needs a few more of these aircraft. The commitments given to the fleet have increased manifold and four aircraft are inadequate for the purpose. Keeping in mind the requirements of more long haul commitments as our diplomatic needs widen, it is strongly suggested that the newer long range Embraer Legacy 650 with extended fuel tanks may be considered. By procuring the aircraft from the same family, it will give the much needed flexibility whilst ensuring that the pilot training and maintenance infrastructure remains the same.
Group Captain Amit Roongta is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy and is a Qualified Flying Instructor. He was the first IAF officer selected to undergo Staff Course in Japan and holds a Masters degree in Defence and Strategic Studies. He has flown various dignitaries including the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Military Service Chiefs and a host of foreign dignitaries during his tenure in Air HQ Sqn and has over 3,000 hours of flying the Embraer Legacy Jet. He is currently flying with Vistara..