How to waste public funds

PM Viktor Orbán’s private meeting with Donald Trump cost €141 thousand for the Hungarian taxpayers

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán travelled to the United States in early August, where he met former US President Donald Trump and spoke on the stage of CPAC, the annual political conference of conservatives. Viktor Orbán and his entourage were flown to and from the US in a Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft, registration number 607, of the Hungarian Defence Forces. The operating costs of the luxury aircraft are extremely high, nearly HUF 3 million per hour, so the 20-hour Budapest – New York – Dallas – Budapest trip cost the public roughly €141 thousand (HUF 57 million). 

In 2018, the Hungarian Defence Forces purchased 2 Airbus A319 troop-carrying aircraft and 2 Dassault Falcon 7X luxury aircraft. Although the then Defence Minister István Simicskó claimed at the time of the purchase that these were not government aircraft but would be used by the Defence Forces, this statement was quickly disproved. The planes are regularly used by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Minister Péter Szíjjártó, but they have also been used by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and President of Hungary, Katalin Novák.

There would be no problem with this, in case of official programmes, as in many countries it is normal and common practice for the air force to transport the country’s leaders. In our country, however, on the one hand, there is no official recognition of the protocol use of the planes, no information is given on the costs, and the whereabouts of the planes and the people they took are kept secret for 30 years on the grounds of national security.

In addition, there are strong suspicions that they are not only using the air force planes for official trips, as they have repeatedly visited famous holiday resorts, which do not seem to be justified for military reasons.

Balázs Orbán, Zsolt Németh, Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó in Bedminster on 2 August 2022 (photo by Balázs Orbán/Facebook)

At the beginning of August this year, the Prime Minister flew to the United States in one of the Falcons, where he met former US President Donald Trump and spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The CPAC is a  right-wing event, Orbán has already spoken about fighting communists and liberals at the Budapest conference in May, and in Dallas, his speech was mainly about George Soros and the gender ideology.

Although the meeting with Trump and the CPAC visit seem more like a private agenda than an official duty, the PM’s political director Balázs Orbán posted on Facebook that they flew to America in a Falcon with the registration number 607 of the Hungarian Defence Forces. The delegation included Zsolt Németh, chairman of the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, who also posted a selfie with Balázs Orbán on his social media page with the 607 in the background.

Zsolt Németh and Balázs Orbán in front of Falcon 607 at Budapest airport on 1 August 2022 (photo: Balázs Orbán/Facebook)

According to the flight data, the plane flew to New York on the first day of August (Orbán met Donald Trump in nearby Bedminster the next day), then flew to Dallas on 3 August (where the Hungarian Prime Minister took the stage on 4 August), and returned to Budapest on 5 August. The Hungarian Defence Forces plane was in the air for about 20 hours for the Prime Minister’s trip to the US.

Aviation expert Mihály Hardy estimated how much this overseas trip must have cost taxpayers, and how credible the official claim that the Falcons were not bought as government aircraft is.

Mihály Hardy: One of the government’s regular, common misstatements is that the two Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft of the Hungarian Defence Forces are actually military reconnaissance and courier aircraft. This is a blatant lie. The Dassault Falcon 7X is exclusively a luxury business jet, of which there is no military version, because no one can think of one. It would be like putting a gold Rolex watch in a standard Suzuki Swift just to tell the time.

There are business jets on the international arms market that have military/electronic air surveillance versions, such as the Gulfstream 550 or the Cessna Citation in various variants, but the Dassault Falcon has none. Therefore, only as a government aircraft can the military aircraft with registration numbers 606 and 607 be used.

These aircraft are used mainly by Viktor Orbán, Katalin Novák, Péter Szijjártó, Zsolt Semjén and others,

These planes have no military use.

As they are also required to use a civil ADS-B Mode S transponder (radio identification), switching it off is at the very least a threat to air traffic. Even if Bertalan Havasi, Zoltán Kovács or Antal Rogán would like to hide these routes from the press. In any case, technically, it cannot be ruled out that the visibility of the transponder signal is only disabled from the Internet, i.e. air traffic control can see the plane, but not interested civilians.

Mihály Hardy (1957- ), a journalist, worked for Hungarian Television between 1980 and 1997, was spokesman of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ) between 1992 and 1994, and was vice-president of MÚOSZ between 1994 and 1997. He worked as a press spokesman for the UNHCR in Budapest, as editor-in-chief of ATV Híradó, as editor-in-chief of TV3 Híradó and as communications director of Tesco-Global Zrt. After his resignation, he became Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Klubrádió, and is currently Editor-in-Chief of the radio station. 

The Dassault Falcon 7X is one of the most expensive aircraft in its class, both in terms of purchase price and operation. Its average price is around USD 35 million, or HUF 14 billion. The Hungarian Defence Forces immediately bought two of them, because the OTP Group has a similar aircraft, so if Sándor Csányi has one, Orbán needs at least two.

The cost of running it is insanely high, coming to $7,143 per hour flown. That’s HUF 2,869,242, or €7123.

So, let’s say the tour of Dallas with a stopover in New York was about 20 hours flown, or 57,384,840 HUF (for simplicity, I calculated at 400 HUF/USD.) So the travel costs alone were the price of a large family house – that’s what it cost the taxpayer, because the Hungarian budget paid for it.

According to Google, by the way, the rental of a Dassault Falcon 7X is roughly USD 11,400 per hour, with case-train, pilot, kerosene. I took the data from this publicly available source.

Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán in Bedminster, USA, on 2 August 2022, with Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó behind Orbán (photo: Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page)

In addition, the CPAC in Dallas was a private event of the Republican Party, which Viktor Orbán attended not as head of government, but as a Fidesz politician, if you like, as a private person, just like Donald Trump (although he is not in office). So HUF 57 million of budget money (approximately €141 thousand) were burned for a distinctly non-state function, which in other European countries a prime minister would easily fall for, because it is irresponsible management, and misappropriation may arise.

If the Centre of Fundamental Rights, which sponsored the event, had rented the plane, the problem is that it is obviously strictly forbidden to rent military equipment in a ‘state of war’ – I don’t think they would rent it to anyone.

Miklós Szánthó, director of the Center for Fundamental Rights, at CPAC in Dallas in August 2022 (photo by Miklós Szánthó/Facebook)

It is unimaginable, for example, that Emmanuel Macron should fly to Canada in a Dassault Falcon of the French Air Force (among other aircraft, they have two Dassault Falcon 7X presidential aircraft, operated by a dedicated squadron of government aircraft) to attend a party event of, say, Justin Trudeau, just because he likes his movement! The next day he would be torn to shreds by the French press and would have to resign – quite rightly, because public money should only be used for public purposes. In a constitutional state.”

Atlatszo: As we reported, on August 5, returning from Dallas, 607 went to Kecskemét – presumably to refuel and change crew – then flew to Zadar and back, and the next day made a Kecskemét-Split-Monte Real-Split-Kecskemét circuit. Viktor Orbán also appeared in Croatia on 6 August, leading to suspicions that he had been taken on holiday by the Defence Forces plane, although his press officer denied this after our story.

As the plane’s journeys will remain secret for 30 years, the truth will not be known until 2052 at the earliest. For now, let’s ignore the question of why the plane had to fly twice in a row to famous Adriatic resorts, but the costs are interesting regardless of the passenger. How much did these two trips to Croatia cost the taxpayer, based on the above calculations?

Mihály Hardy: „It is obviously a complete coincidence that the Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft of the Hungarian Defence Forces, MH 59 Szentgyörgyi Dezső Air Base Teve Transport Squadron, Side 607, turns up at the very airport in Croatia (strictly on a defence mission) in the exact time and space when the Hungarian Prime Minister is on holiday in the Adriatic. The two are most certainly not connected. The runway at Split civil airport is 2 500 metres long and is therefore perfectly suited to accommodate the Dassault Falcon 7X.

In theory, a Kecskemét-Split-Kecskemét tour takes about 1-1 hour flying time, so it costs Hungarian taxpayers/military budgets 5-6 million HUF (€14 thousand).

In the end, it is the result that counts, as in return we got to see the Hungarian PM taking photos of himself in an Adriatic rowing boat with a retired journalist from Slobodna Dalmacija. The story about the broken down speedboat is even better, as the Counter Terrorism Centre (TEK) obviously checked the technical and safety condition of the speedboat thoroughly before departure.

It was also reported that there was a lady accompanying Orbán, presumably his wife Anikó Lévai, but no pictures of her were seen. Let’s say the rest of the Orbán family, i.e. the ones not living in Marbella, could theoretically fit in the Dassault Falcon 7X, which has a capacity of 19 passengers plus a crew of 3.”

The deck of a Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft of the Hungarian Defence Forces at the 59th Szentgyörgyi Dezső Air Base in Kecskemét, where the National Assembly’s Defence Committee held an external meeting on 27 February 2020. (photo: MTI/Sándor Ujvári)

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, Hungarian version of this story was written by Katalin Erdélyi and can be found here. Cover photo: the Hungarian Defence Forces Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft with registration number 607 at Budapest airport (photo: Mihály Hardy)