Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots have begun training on the Agusta Westland AW 101 helicopters in Britain. The same model has been purchased for ferrying dignitaries in India, the first of which are to be delivered by end-2012.
Finmeccanica group CEO Giuseppe Orsi told India Strategic during a media interaction at the Farnborough Air Show that the first batch of the IAF pilots had arrived in Britain as scheduled and were undergoing training at the Agusta Westland facility.
Agusta Westland, incorporating the former British Westland Helicopters, is a Finmeccanica group company. It has delivered some 300 helicopters of different types to 22 countries since the merger of Augusta and Westland in 2000.
IAF had selected the three-engined AW 101 for its VIP squadron in 2010 in a euro 560 million ($827 million) deal for 12 helicopters inclusive of training. The delivery of the 12 helicopters is to be completed in 2013.
The AW 101 had also been selected for use by the White House, but President Barack Obama had the deal cancelled as part of the measures to reduce defence expenditure.
The AW 101 was selected after field trials were evaluated by the IAF and the Special Protection Group (SPG), responsible for protecting the prime minister and select political leaders. The aircraft was chosen over the previously considered American Sikorsky S92 Superhawk.
Prior to selecting the Superhawk, the IAF had been using Soviet-vintage Mi-8s and some Mi-17s to fly the prime minister and other dignitaries around, an often criticized choice due to their maintenance issues.
The VIP Squadron, officially designated Air HQ Communication Squadron, was set up in 1952. According to an IAF statement, “the primary role of the squadron is to convey VVIPs/VIPs of India and visiting foreign heads of state and government”.