On January 25, when Air Force One landed in Delhi with US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama amid six layers of security cover at the Delhi Airport and across the city, the airports at Mumbai, Jaipur and Ahmedabad were also tied up under a similar security paraphernalia.
According to sources, there were doubts till the last moment over the possible landing of Air Force One. “There were rumours Air Force One could land at either Jaipur or Ahmedabad if visibility was not viable for landing at Delhi,” a source said.
A similar six-layer security cordon was laid out at the airports in Jaipur and Ahmedabad, whereas the Mumbai Airport was already on high alert after intelligence inputs of a possible terror attack.
“The security apparatus was set up only at the airports in Jaipur and Ahmedabad, and not the entire cities as the aircraft would have finally landed in Delhi once the visibility cleared up,” the source said.
Officials said most of the security arrangements were, however, put in place under the normal protocol during the Republic Day celebrations, “when major cities across India are on red alert”.
VIP Five Air Force One, however, is given priority landing in Delhi and elsewhere, “just like any other VIP Five”. Officials said apart from priority landing, Air Force One is also given a 2,000-feet separation from other aircraft in the airspace, unlike the mandatory 1,000-feet separation for any other commercial flight.
In terminology used by Air Traffic Controllers, the VIP priorities are segregated under five heads. While VIP One is the President of India,
VIP Two is the Vice-President, VIP Three is the Prime Minister, VIP Four is the Deputy Prime Minister and VIP Five is any other head of a country.
“Air Force One is accorded the same priority as any any other state head. In ATC terms, we treat it as VIP Five,” an official said.
ATC officials said the airspace was closed for about 300 km beyond the airspace in Delhi.
“This is the protocol and done every year for the flypast, when no flights are allowed across the 300-km radius above the Delhi airspace,” an official said.