Public funds

Katalin Novák uses the army planes mostly for free, the former president at least paid for the kerosene sometimes

According to data from the Ministry of Defence, 19 out of 223 trips between the beginning of 2021 and September 2022 were made by the Office of the President of the Republic. Only 6 cases indicated a fuel cost and another 6 trips reported a cost of HUF 0. For example, President Katalin Novák’s trip to Brazil cost an unrealistic amount of nothing, and former President János Áder travelled to Bulgaria for just HUF 125,000.

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.

After a successful data request, we recently received some data from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the cost of military flights of leading politicians between January 2021 and September 2022. The MoD sent us a link to a watermarked scan of a table – and every row was on a separate page. We have worked hard to create a normal, useful table from the scanned documents.

Discounted or unknown fuel prices

Of the 223 trips we received data for, 197 were taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the Prime Minister’s Office took 7, and the Office of the President of the Republic took 19 trips.

For the 19 trips of the Office of the President of the Republic (OPR), the MoD has only declared a total cost of HUF 48.4 million. But this is certainly not the real cost of the flights, because

fuel costs were only charged on 6 occasions.

There are also completely free journeys, where not only the price of kerosene, but no other costs are indicated by the Ministry of Defence.

Onboard catering for the delegation is only included in 3 trips, and on these trips the total cost was the same as an average flight of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó: HUF 1.36 million. The total cost of in-flight internet use was also the same as an average FM-trip, just HUF 2.1 million.

Free Flyin’: How Hungarian politicians enjoy expensive trips without fuel charges – English

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.

Two presidents, different travel costs

The 19 cases involve 2 presidents of the republic. The current head of state, Katalin Novák, was inaugurated on 14 May 2022, while János Áder has held the office since 2012. Based on press reports, it was relatively easy to identify which of the 19 OPR-trips were used by the current and former President of the Republic. According to our calculations, János Áder travelled on 13 occasions with the Hungarian Defence Forces aircraft, and Katalin Novák on 6 of the 19 flights.

However, the uneven distribution of costs is striking:

The MoD reported expenditure of HUF 43.2 million for Áder’s 13 trips, and only HUF 5.1 million for Novák’s 6 journeys.

The difference is mostly due to kerosene: there are 5 cases where János Áder’s flights include a fuel cost, so most of the 6 such figures issued were added. The situation is similar for the cost of airport services: all 3 of the figures given are for János Áder’s trips – as are 2 of the 3 on-board catering figures given.

János Áder’s trip to Switzerland was the most expensive

The official visits of the former President of the Republic are easily and almost completely identifiable in the MoD’s data. But in many cases the costs are unrealistically low:

Conspicuously absent from the Ministry of Defence’s data is János Áder’s January 2022 trip to Africa, when he visited Kenya and Ghana. One country is located in the east of the continent, the other in the west, roughly 6,500 kilometres apart. Áder also had to get there from Budapest and back, so this trip may have been the most expensive, but the MoD has not said anything about it.

János Áder probably would not have wanted to be seen flying with the army planes, because they are not in any official pictures, not even in the background. Fortunately, however, during Áder’s visit to Kiev in August 2021, Ukraine’s ambassador to Hungary, Nepop Liuba, captured for posterity the President of the Republic stepping out of Falcon 607.

János Áder with the 607 Falcon on 23 August 2021 in Kiev (photo: Nepop Liuba/Facebook)

Katalin Novák’s free trips around the world

For the current President of the Republic, there are 6 roads in the Ministry of Defence’s data release. But of Novák’s 6 trips,

only 1 includes fuel costs, and 3 of her flights have a cost of HUF 0.

For example, Katalin Novák’s trip to Brazil last July with the 607 Falcon was a completely “free” flight, according to MoD. During this journey, Novák first travelled to Rio de Janeiro to meet with then President Jair Bolsonaro, and then she visited the Hungarian House in Sao Paulo. From Brazil, Novák went straight to Slovenia at the invitation of Slovenian President Borut Pahor.

Arrival of Katalin Novák in Ljubljana on 14 July 2022 (credit: OPR)

According to the Ministry of Defence, the visit of Katalin Novák to Latvia in June 2022, where she participated in the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Riga, was also “free”. According to the flight details, Novák travelled out on board the 605 Airbus and posted a picture of the cockpit of the plane on her Facebook page.

Katalin Novák and one of the pilots, Lieutenant General Lea Zolnai on their way to Riga on 19 June 2022 (credit: Facebook)

Other trips by the head of state were also super cheap, according to the MoD:

  • 17 May, 2022, Warsaw: HUF 4 500 (as internet-cost)
  • 19 May, 2022, Cluj-Napoca: HUF 4.5 million (HUF 2.5 million for fuel, HUF 2.1 million for internet)
  • 9 June, 2022, Bucharest: HUF 567 759 (on-board catering)

Novak’s many flights missing from the data

The President’s foreign trips are regularly reported in the domestic and foreign press, and unlike Áder, she likes to pose with the Hungarian Defence Forces planes. Therefore, it is easy to deduce which of her flights are not listed in the MoD’s data as having been ordered by the OPR.

Shortly before Bucharest, on 7 June 2022, for example, Katalin Novák visited Prague, where she held talks with Czech President Miloš Zeman, and the next day, on 8 June, she met Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala. She was accompanied on the trip by her husband and they travelled in Airbus 604 – there is an official photo of them at Prague airport.

Katalin Novák and her husband in Prague on 7 June, 2022 (credit: MTI/Noémi Bruzák)

Also missing from the MoD’s papers is Novák’s visit to the Vatican on 25 August 2022, when she had a private audience with Pope Francis. She was also accompanied by her husband, with whom she says she received the papal blessing. But it was not just the two of them, they were other members in the delegation. The group was transported to Rome by the 605 Airbus aircraft of the Hungarian Defence Forces, of which several photos have been published.

Katalin Novák with her entourage in Rome, on 25 August 2022 (credit: OPR)

Shortly afterwards, on 7 September 2022, the President of the Republic travelled to Bucharest at the invitation of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. She travelled on board Airbus 604, as she showed it with a photo on her Facebook page. However, the Ministry of Defence has not disclosed any costs for this flight.

The US tour was booked to the Foreign Ministry

At the end of September 2022, Katalin Novák went on a multi-day trip to the United States of America. She first spoke on the UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September and then went to visit several places. She visited for example her former high school and the Mexican border, meeting with US President Joe Biden, scientists, schoolchildren and Mel Gibson, among others.

Katalin Novák and Mel Gibson in the US in September 2022 (credit: Facebook)

According to the flight data, Novák travelled on this American tour with the 607 Falcon. The public data request of Magyar Hang (Hungarian Voice) revealed that she was accompanied by a delegation of 12 people on the trip to the US, during which she travelled more than 22,600 kilometres by plane, more than 1,100 kilometres by car and visited 19 sites in eight cities.

In the data released by the Ministry of Defence, this road is not listed under the name of the OPR, but by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And it was the second most expensive trip, even though

only one cost is listed next to it: HUF 29.8 million for fuel.

This is clearly only a fraction of the real kerosene costs, and there must have been airspace and airport charges, staff costs (accommodation, catering, per diem), and a delegation of 13 people, including Novák, presumably not travelled hungry and thirsty on board for hours.

Written and translated by Katalin Erdélyi. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this article can be found here.