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Skyfall copter for VVIPs

New Delhi, Dec. 9: In about a month from now, an AN-124 aircraft that carries oversized cargo is expected to take off from Yeovil, southwest England, and land at Hindon, just east of Delhi.

At Hindon, the AN-124 will “kneel” and open up for its onboard crane to move parts of the oversized cargo to the ground. The cargo will be reassembled and formed into two AW 101 VVIP helicopters that will ferry the President, the Prime Minister and other dignitaries.

The helicopters, which have also featured in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, will join the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron after defence minister A.K. Antony ruled out cancelling the contract despite an investigation in Italy.

The first consignment will carry two of eight helicopters in the “VVIP configuration” that the Indian Air Force has chosen on the advice of the Special Protection Group. The four others, among the 12 helicopters for which orders have been placed, will be used for military transport.

Antony, who is usually pro-active in deferring or shelving contracts on allegations of corruption, is understood to have cleared the VVIP deal after a probe in the ministry found that the proposal was first moved by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government. Then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra was instrumental in the choice of the helicopter.

A court in Naples, Italy, is hearing depositions from prosecutors that allege executives of Finmeccanica, Agusta Westland’s parent company, paid bribes to win the Rs 4,000-crore Indian contract among other deals.

Last week, Antony informed Parliament that the Italian government had told the Indian embassy in Rome that it does not have a say in the judicial process. The Indian high commission in London too sent a message that it had not found evidence in the UK, where Agusta Westland’s helicopter assembly plant is located, of bribery.

But the defence ministry in its internal inquiry found that the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) — or specifications — had been changed between 2002 and 2004 under the NDA government.

A major change related to the requirement of the flight ceiling of the helicopters. The change from 18,000ft to 13,500ft was endorsed by Brajesh Mishra. The change in the specifications suited the AW 101. The contract was signed in 2010.