The aircraft operate out of Pápa Air Base in Hungary. The first aircraft was delivered in July 2009 with the second and third aircraft following in September and October 2009, respectively.
The aircraft are operated by multinational aircrews under the command of a multinational military structure – the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW). The HAW is manned by personnel from all participating nations.
This is one of two complementary initiatives aimed at providing NATO nations and participating partners with strategic airlift capabilities. A second initiative is the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS), under which a multinational consortium of 18 countries has contracted a civilian company for the charter of Antonov An-124-100 transport aircraft. In addition, there are national procurement programmes in place to improve airlift capabilities, including the acquisition by seven NATO nations of 180 A400M aircraft, and the purchase by Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of C-17s for national use.
The C-17 is a large strategic transport aircraft capable of carrying 77,000 kilograms (169,776 pounds) of cargo over 4,450 kilometers (2,400 nautical miles) and is able to operate in difficult environments and austere conditions.
The planes are configured and equipped to the same general standard as C-17s operated by the US Air Force. The crews and support personnel are trained for mission profiles and standards agreed by the countries.
These strategic lift aircraft are used to meet national requirements, but could also be allocated for NATO, UN or EU missions, or for other international purposes. The Heavy Airlift Wing has flown missions in support of ISAF and KFOR operations, for humanitarian relief activities in Haiti and Pakistan and peacekeeping mission in Africa.
Following intense consultations, a Letter of Intent (LOI) to launch contract negotiations was publicly released by 13 NATO countries on 12 September 2006. In the intervening period, two partners joined the consortium and NATO participation evolved to the current ten members.
In June 2007, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved the Charter of a NATO Production and Logistics Organisation (NPLO), which authorizes the establishment of the NATO Airlift Management Organisation (NAMO). The Charter came into effect upon signature to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and notification to the North Atlantic Council, in September 2008. The Charter authorized the establishment of the NATO Airlift Management Agency (NAMA), which acquired, manages and supports the airlift assets on behalf of the SAC nations.
On 1 July 2012, in line with NATO Agencies Reform decisions, NAMO/NAMA became part of the new NATO Support Agency, or NSPA.
The participants include ten NATO nations (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States) and two Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations (Finland and Sweden).
Membership in the airlift fleet remains open to other countries upon agreement by the consortium members.