Military aircraft are covertly used as government planes in Hungary during the pandemic
Four airplanes of the Hungarian Defence Forces, namely two Airbus A319 and two Dassault Falcon 7X, were frequently used during the Covid-19 pandemic: The list of the known flight destinations includes Washington D.C., Moldova, Russia, Canada, and a ‘cheeky fling’ to Rome on Valentine’s day. Plenty of these destinations are showing parity with the publicly photographed and shared travels of the Prime Minister. Here is a summary of the latest routes and destinations obtained by Atlatszo.
Two years ago two Airbus A319 were purchased by the Hungarian Defence Forces, to ‘expand the means of transportation of the troops’. Yet, the aeroplanes were used by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his international travels regularly. Following the purchase of the two Airbuses, six months later the Defence Force acquires two other aeroplanes, although, from a very much different class: The Dassault Falcon 7X is a prominent example of those business jets, which are used by the wealthier as luxury private jets. Nevertheless, these models also turned out as useful means of travel, for the Prime Minister’s journeys. Atlatszo first reported on this in 2019 when we compiled a list of non-commercial airplanes the Prime Minister has used:
Viktor Orban worked very hard during his years in politics to present himself as an ordinary guy, just someone next door living a simple life. His Facebook page shows pictures of him drinking pálinka, Hungary’s favorite home-made spirit and cooking traditional sausages.
After some time and a vast amount of articles concerning the flight travels of Viktor Orbán, the military aeroplanes’ tracking information were eventually blocked from the publicly available flight-tracking sites. Since then, it was hard to tell where do the two Airbus and two Falcon travel to. In the December of 2019 however, with the help of the Investigative Dashboard, Átlátszó managed to obtain the relevant transponder data, regarding the journeys of the aeroplanes: Collected by volunteers at ADS-B Exchange, who reject governmental censure, a detailed list of flight routes was published.
In 2018 Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán traveled frequently with newly acquired military aircraft and posed proudly next to them. Since then, however, flight route data on two passenger and two luxury jet aircraft purchased by the Hungarian Defense Forces has been hidden from flight tracker websites.
As our story revealed it, the flight destinations of the two Airbus and the two Falcon planes included such locations as Dubai, Las Vegas, Malta, Panama and the Canary Islands. In 2020 January however, shortly after the publication of the referred article, it became clear that there will be no official explanation of these journeys of the Hungarian Air Force planes, to the listed beach resorts and tax havens, for at least another 30 years: the relevant data, “for the sake of defence and national security”, were classified for 3 decades by the authorities.
There is no point of secrecy, as the information is publicly available
Aeroplane movements can be easily tracked through the plane equipped transponder, which projects radio signals discoverable to ground-based antennas and other signal receivers. The transponder signal contains information about the aircraft’s registration, position, height and speed- technically all the necessary data which are essential to reconstruct an aeroplane’s flight record. By collecting these information from the various signal receivers, flight-tracking sites operate along the very same methodology. So we did it again, and took a closer look on the flight routes from 2019 December to the first half of April in 2020.
It seems, there is a clear choice of preference between the usage of the two Airbus aircrafts within the same model: The Defence Force aeroplane with the tail number ‘604’, beside a trip to the Greek island Paros and a flight to London, was neglected since last year’s December- at least, according to the available transponder data. The aircraft was used again from early April, for short inland trips and a longer one to Brussels.
The other Airbus -tail numbered ‘605’- on the other hand had a more fortunate season: After many international destinations in December- such as Brussels and Prague – it was only used for inland flights in January, just to expand its travel destinations to more exotic ones in February: Marseille, Istanbul and the Croatian Brac are also among these destinations. In March, after the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, it still had two trips to Turkey, four trips to Skopje, one to Moscow and another one to Sofia. In April it stayed home for inland trips, just to fly out once more to Skopje.
The absolute favourites although, are clearly the two Falcon typed business jets: From December to February the aircraft with the tail number ‘606’ had more than 20 international destinations. Among the ‘classic’ destinations such as Moscow and London, there are also more fascinating ones on the list, such as the Portuguese Beja or the Croatian Zadar. After a coincidental Valentine’s day trip, the plane returned to Rome on the 28th of February.
The case is the same with the other Falcon, tail numbered ‘607’: many of its destinations overlaps the previous destinations of the other Falcon and two Airbus. Only this one had a more fortunate April in terms of international flights than the ‘606’: while its counterpart was mainly used for internal flights, the plane made it to Washington D.C. and also to the Canadian St. Augustine.
Parity with the international trips of the PM
Although István Simicskó, past defence minister, stated after buying the two Airbus models, that “These are not government planes. These are in the lines of the Hungarian Defence Forces, used exclusively by the Defence Forces”, and regardless that many declarations from official states the same about the Falcons, it is clear and obvious that these are frequently used by the Prime Minister for his international travels.
In the year of the aircraft purchases in 2018, Viktor Orbán travelled on the board of the ‘604’ and ‘605’ to various locations such as Israel, Montenegro, Moscow, Kyrgyzstan, and also to an opera night in Milan. On the 31st of December in 2018, the Prime Minister flew on the board of the ‘607’ to Brazil, to participate in the induction of prime minister Jair Bolsonaro, and on the board of ‘606’ to meet with Donald Trump in the May of 2019.
The prime minister and his wife attended a show in Milan’s famous opera house, La Scala, on November 15. It was disclosed neither on Orban’s Facebook page nor through his press secretary what means of transport the couple used to travel there.
These trips were frequently documented in the form of photos and videos both on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page and on the government’s official website. The grey painted aircraft is easily recognizable behind the photographed Orbán.
Combining the previously obtained various flight information and the officially shared pictures, in December Átlátszó managed to reveal that the Airbus ‘604’ was indeed transporting Viktor Orbán with Zsolt Semjén to Kolozsvár (Cluj Napoca), in 2019 May, and the Prime Minister to Azerbaijan in the same year’s October. Furthermore, in the first half of 2019, Orbán took the Airbus ‘605’, to travel to Israel, Egypt, Kazakhstan and China.
If one matches the recently gathered flight data of the four Defence Force aircrafts, from the period of 2019 December to the beginning of 2020 April, with the recently documented trips of the Prime Minister, one will find a considerable amount of parallelity. A few examples: on the 6th of last years December both the Falcon ‘607’ and the Prime Minister was in Tokyo, the grey painted aircraft with a Hungarian soldier is easily recognizable on one of the shared photographs from Orbán’s official Facebook page. On the 12th of December 2019 the Airbus ‘605’ flew to Brussels, returned to Budapest on 13th, just to set off to Temesvár (Timisoara) on the 14th. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Brussels on the 12th, and Temesvár (Timisoara) on the 14th, which was documented by a picture uploaded to his official Facebook page.
On the 5th and 16th of this year’s January, Orbán took the ‘606’ Falcon to Prague, where he participated on the opening eve of the National Opera and the V4 meeting. There are further travel destinations, however, shared by the ‘606’ and the Prime Minister: On the 28th of January they visited Krakow, and on the 1st of February the Portuguese Beja.On the 10th of February, Orbán Viktor posted a picture about travelling with the “non-governmental aircraft” to his Facebook page: He arrived in Berlin on the ‘606’ numbered business jet.
As Átlátszó stated it many times before, it is not just logical, but also a widely used method in several other countries that the Prime Minister is using state-owned aircrafts, such as the planes of the Defence Forces, to travel to official or other diplomatic meetings.
The problem about the travels of Orbán is the imposed secrecy: It is clear and obvious, that the Prime Minister is frequently using the above-mentioned aircrafts for his travels, yet, the Defence Forces are refusing to acknowledge anything but the presented narrative, namely, that “the two Airbus and two Falcon models are not government planes, these were purchased for strictly military-related aims and usage”.
Thus, the officials reject to share any information on the price of purchases, or on the operating cost of these assets, moreover, “on the behalf of national security”, they classified every information about the flight routes, passenger lists or the cost of their journeys.
The data about the flight route, which used for the writing of this article can be found here (Google Drive) – special thanks to Investigative Dashboard. The source of these data is the ADSB-Exchange flight tracking site.
Written by Katalin Erdélyi, data visualisation by Attila Bátorfy, translated by Zsombor Gál. Click here for the Hungarian version of this article. Photo credit: Orbán Viktor / Facebook.