The first US-made C-17 NATO military cargo aircraft was put into service at the Papa (NW Hungary) air base in presence of the NATO Deputy Chief Claudio Bissogniero, Hungary's Defense Minister Imre Szekeres and Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai.
The Globemaster III Boeing is the first of three to be stationed at the base under NATO's Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) program. The SAC program operates independently from NATO, with the participation of NATO-members the USA, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and non-members Sweden and Finland.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Prime Minister Bajnai deemed the creation of the military air transportation fleet as a result of cooperation of 12 countries to be an historical achievement.
The fact that Pápa, Hungary had been selected as a base for the program indicates that the country is a trusted partner within NATO, Bajnai said.
Bissongiero said Hungary has a very important role in this exemplary cooperative effort, which would not have been possible had each state acted on its own. The deputy chief praised the efforts of Hungary and Pápa in promoting this program.
Szekeres told the press that Hungary owns 60 hours of flight time with these aircrafts, enough to transport the supplies of the country's armed forces in Afghanistan. The countries involved can use the aircraft depending on the amount invested in the project. Hungary spent HUF 1.2 billion, or 2%. Maintenance of the C-17 will cost another HUF 1 billion each year.
Szekeres said Hungary will use the aircraft on missions to Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula and Cyprus. The minister added that the three aircraft stationed in Pápa created 300 new jobs.
The Pápa airport was modernized as part of the program at a cost of HUF 9 billion (€34.03 million), mostly from NATO-sources. The renovation included a new hangar, runway repairs, an updated lighting grid and a new, modern fuel-storage system.
Szekeres said there are talks regarding the stationing of an additional four Canadian C-17 aircraft in Papa. A successful agreement would entail the opening of a Boeing repair facility in Hungary. Szekeres said Canada might use the base beginning in 2011.
The C-17 is 53 meters in length, weighs 265 tonnes and is equipped with four engines. It has a payload of 74 tonnes. An international team, called Heavy Airlift Wing, will operate the aircraft. Their planned staff is 131. (MTI – Econews)