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   A problem exercising the minds of the Prime Minister's... (August 26, 1986)

A problem exercising the minds of the Prime Minister's secretariat and Air-India at the moment is finding the right pilot for Mr. Gandhi's visit to Harare. An official of Air-India was explaining to me this morning: "He has to be good pilot. But not very good. He should be able to fly well, but not very well, so that when the plane develops a technical snag, he is forced to land it in Moscow." "You mean the Prime Minister's plane will be landing in Moscow this time also!" I said. "Every time, on the return trip," the official said. "It is the Prime Minister's practice to drop in at Moscow on his way home, whether he has been to Washington or Paris or Prague. The point is that nobody should know that the prime minister is deliberately visiting Moscow, not even the Russian." "That is difficult," I said. "I see your point." "Yes," said the official, "it is our job in the national carrier to see that we provide Mr. Gandhi's party with a pilot who, at the first sign or a fire alarm, will make his way straight for Moscow airport. So far, we have succeeded, but we are running out of such pilots." "Well, if the prime minister has to go to Moscow, you will have to find somebody," I said. "You are not being very helpful," the official said. "Still, I understand, it is not your problem. Basically, it is a technical problem, handled by our maintenance and ground engineering department. They have to introduce the snag in the plane, so that, when the pilot notices it as he is flying somewhere near Moscow, he heads straight for the airport." "If it is as simple as that, any pilot would do, so long as the alarm is timed properly to go off with Moscow as the nearest airport," I said. "Not necessarily," said the official. "We have these alarms and red lights going on and off on our planes all the time. Most of our pilots are good enough to ignore these alarms and fly over the Karakoram on one engine. So, what we want is a pilot who is not very good and lands at the first red glow in the cockpit." "And you don't have somebody like that for the Harare trip?" I asked. "I wouldn't say that we don't have," the official said. "Air-India is a big airline and there are enough pilots to find somebody appropriate to fly the prime minister's party. The point is that he has to be senior enough to fly the prime minister and yet not a very good pilot." "I think there is a solution," I said. "You could use your best pilots and just quietly instruct them to pretend there is an engine failure and land in Moscow." "If we instruct the pilots to do that, then how can the prime minister have the opportunity to lose his temper and suspend them," the official said.

 
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