Free Flyin’: How Hungarian politicians enjoy expensive trips without fuel charges
Data from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) showed that Hungary’s highest-ranked politicians frequently fly in luxury – but the trips’ invoices often don’t include costs like fuel. All the better for the delegations – who can, and have, instead spent extravagant amounts on on-board catering. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s delegation to Cairo, for example, consumed HUF 5.5 million worth of food and drinks and used HUF 6.8 million worth of internet. Discrepancies also cropped up around the Prime Minister’s trips to the USA and Croatia.
In 2018, the Hungarian Defense Forces purchased two Airbus A319 (registration numbers 604 and 605) and two Dassault Falcon 7X (registration numbers 606 and 607) aircrafts. They have been used primarily by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, and occasionally by President of the Republic Katalin Novák – but the costs of these flights have been systematically concealed.
On the grounds of national security, the data surrounding these trips was classified for 30 years and the aircrafts were not tracked on even the most extensive flight-tracking sites. Using the planes’ transponders, however, ADS-B Exchange was able to publish the aircrafts’ flights.
Atlatszo obtained a contract between the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and MoD, which outlined that the MoD would send the PMO a detailed invoice of each trip, itemizing everything from fuel to staff wages.
Atlatszo obtained the contract that allows Viktor Orban to use military aircraft for private purposes – English
According to the document obtained by Atlatszo, the PM’s Office pays the Ministry of Defence annually for the costs of travelling with military planes.
Based on the contract, Atlatszo submitted an FOI request for the invoices between 2021 and the date of the request. The MoD responded with a link to a watermarked scan of a table –and every row was on a separate page. Better yet, the link died after two weeks.
The MoD rejected our request for a more workable format – so we combed through the scanned invoice, which included the following eight items:
- The cost of the aircraft based on fuel consumption
- The crew’s per diem and subsistence costs
- The cost of the crew’s stay abroad
- The cost of the on-board catering
- Airspace charges
- Airport service charges
- Onboard Internet charges
- Other expenditure
Forty-seven trips missing
Flights are numbered from one to 270, but 47 numbers were missing – which means 47 flights are unaccounted for. Some trips only had one item invoiced, while others had several expenditures of HUF 0 recorded.
Of the 223 trips we received data for, 197 were taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the Office of the President of the Republic took 19 trips and the PMO took 7.
Even this existing data may be deceptive, however, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs often arranges the Prime Minister’s trips.
223 trips for HUF 644 million
While the data provided by the MoD was awkwardly formatted at best, more pressing concerns became clear once we completed our analysis. Out of 270 trips, 47 were unaccounted for – which means no information was provided on 17.4 per cent of the flights.
And of the remaining 223 trips, many only had one item invoiced, while others registered expenditures of HUF 0 – free trips on military aircrafts.
Even based on the incomplete data, however, some expenditure figures are staggering. For one, an overall HUF 644.4 million was invoiced for 223 trips. Broken down, HUF 273 million went to fuel, HUF 172 million to airport services, HUF 106.3 million to onboard Internet usage, and HUF 36.4 million to onboard catering. In addition, HUF 19.8 million went to airspace charges, HUF 23 million covered the staff’s stay abroad, HUF 13.6 million covered the staff’s wages.
Free fuel, apparently
Oddly, fuel costs were often left unpublished. In fact, out of 223 journeys, only 51 contain information on the cost of gasoline. This amounts to 22.8%, meaning that for 77% of all flights (in 172 cases), either no cost figures were identified, or the amount was entered as 0 – which is particularly awkward because kerosene is not free.
On the contrary, its price has been volatile between 2021 and now. One gallon of kerosene cost USD 1.5 at the start of 2021 (equivalent to HUF 450). The same amount cost USD 3 during the summer of 2022 (equivalent to HUF1080).
And the Falcons and the Airbuses consume a lot of fuel. A Falcon 7X uses 385 gallons an hour, while an Airbus A319 uses around 860 gallons in the same time – which would mean that, even at a cost of USD 3 per gallon at an exchange rate of HUF 350, a Falcon’s usage costs around HUF 404,000 per hour and the Airbus’ fuel consumption costs HUF 903,000 per hour.
It is unclear, therefore, how the MoD ended up calculating HUF 0 for these costs. President Katalin Novák, for example, flew to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Slovenia in one trip with a Falcon 607 – without accruing any fuel costs.
Soaring internet prices, food and drink bonanza
Due to the cost of Internet– which is exorbitant – aircrafts have posters listing the prices onboard to avoid any unpleasant shocks. But the delegations were not deterred, with over HUF 106 million spent on Internet, according to the data – which is nearly a sixth of the total expenditure disclosed.
The record-holder currently is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs trip through Nursultan, Bishkek, Tashkent, Istanbul and Warsaw, which saw HUF 12.5 million go to the Internet.
But the Foreign Ministry has been hard at work, because they also account for the second the third most Internet-heavy trips.
There’s more good news – the delegations are not at risk of starvation onboard. In total, the cost of food and drink amounted to HUF 36.4 million. And this is particularly impressive when only 56 of the 223 trips actually included food as an expenditure – so, only 25 per cent of the trips’ food and drink expenditure is known.
Szijjártó flies in style
According to the data, in 11 out of the 56 cases, over HUF one million was spent to cater the delegation. For two trips, this amount exceeded HUF two million, and one trip hit the HUF five million mar. And 10 times out of the 11, the trip was taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Catering for Péter Szijjártó’s Cairo-Mana’a trip last February cost HUF 5.5 million, and another HUF 6.8 million was spent on internet costs – so, an impressive HUF 12.4 million was spent overall. But the MoD didn’t include any other costs for this trip – including fuel – which means the expenditure is even higher in reality.
Viktor Orbán in America and the Adriatic
One of the flights included by the MoD was the Prime Minister’s trip to the US in August 2022. PM Orbán, accompanied by Péter Szijjártó, Balázs Orbán and Zsolt Németh, flew to the United States in a 607 Falcon to meet former President Donald Trump and to perform at right-wing conservative heaven CPAC Texas. According to one aviation expert, the trip to Dallas may have cost taxpayers up to HUF 57 million, with the plane consuming HUF 3 million an hour for 20 hours.
The MoD, however, listed expenses of HUF 25.7 million for fuel and HUF 47 thousand for airspace – and nothing else.
Perhaps the delegation didn’t eat onboard. Even with the missing costs, the flight was one of the five most expensive trips in the registry.
And the US trip was followed closely by a vacation to Croatia, where the PM also flew with a military Falcon aircraft. The plane went from Kecskemet to Split to Monte Real in Portugal, where it spent six hours at the airport, before it returned to Split and subsequently Kecskemet.
But the PM would have been satisfied, because the trip only cost HUF 594,000 – all for staff subsistence. It must have been an incredible deal, because fuel, airspace, and airport services all came for free – apparently.
A similar special offer must have been in play when the PM travelled to Rome from Croatia for a Catholic conference and to meet with Giorgia Meloni pre-Italian elections. According to the MoD, the Brac-Rome-Zadar roundtrip cost HUF three million – once again, with free fuel.
Where are the MoD numbers from?
Unless fuel was made free and we somehow missed it, there is strong reason to suspect the MoD’s data is less than accurate – because 77 per cent of the flights had no fuel expenditure listed, or an expenditure of HUF 0.
Communication also seems to have broken down, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RTL that Orbán’s trip to Rome in 2021 cost HUF 471,000 – but according to the MoD data, it cost HUF three million.
Independent MP Ákos Hadházy requested data for the cost of the two Falcons’ and Airbus’ flying hours for clarity – but the data request was rejected. When he tried again, Defense Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky said that this information was not public “in the interests of defense and national security”.
Translated by Vanda Mayer. The original, Hungarian version of this article was written by Katalin Erdélyi and can be found here and here.