Prime Minister, Ministers,
Ambassadors, CHODs, Chairmen of the Boards,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today, representing NATO on behalf of our Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on this auspicious occasion - the ceremonial arrival of the first C-17 Strategic Airlift Capability aircraft at Papa Airbase.
As you know, Jaap has been a most enthusiastic supporter of this project, and he very much regrets not to be able to be here today. And I am sure all of us present wish him, wish our Secretary General, a speedy recovery.
Today is the formal realisation of a vision and a dream, the joint effort by twelve nations - working together - to obtain a capability that is vital to our operations and to meet the security challenges of today and the future.
Less than three years ago, the Secretary General convened a press conference to announce that a number of NATO nations had signed Letters of Intent to negotiate the purchase of C-17 aircraft, to meet national strategic airlift requirements.
Building on the experiences and lessons learned from two decades of operation of another highly successful multi-national capability – the AWACS, the NATO Airborne Early Warning fleet the SAC C-17 program exemplifies what can be accomplished when nations come together for a common purpose - to acquire, collectively, a capability that would be beyond the means of the nations, acting individually. This is a true testimony of Allied solidarity.
As we gather here today, we are witnesses to the culmination of that effort - a state-of-the-art strategic transport aircraft, flown by multinational crews, with Hungarian livery on the tail signifying the national registry of the fleet. Delivery of aircraft 2 and 3, arriving in the next few months, will complete our fleet.
Many factors have contributed to the success of this project:
- the sound logic of the initial concept that NATO developed;
- the sustained work at NATO headquarters to resolve political issues and create an airlift management organization and agency, NAMA;
- the flexibility and dedication, shown by all participants in working through the complex legal, technical and operational issues that had to be resolved to put together the MOU and CONOPS, and the organization to operate this new capability;
- the expertise of the United States Air Force, as the broad outlines of the programme came together;
- the contributions of our two Partner nations -- Sweden and Finland -- working in harmony with the ten Alliance members of SAC;
- the skill and talent of hundreds of Boeing workers in Long Beach, who built this fine aircraft;
- and, very importantly, the vital part played by the Hungarian government, and the local Papa community in hosting the fleet and its personnel. Hungary has invested energy and effort, and substantial resources, including numerous base infrastructure improvements, to make today possible. The hospitality shown by Papa in welcoming the SAC initiative has been exemplary. And it sets the stage for a long-term positive partnership between the Airlift Wing and the local community.
Today, we celebrate this milestone with all participating nations. We celebrate together with the first General Manager of the NATO Airlift Management Agency, Gunnar Borch, with the Heavy Airlift Wing Commander, Col. John Zazworsky, and members of both the Wing and the Agency. We celebrate with the residents of Papa and the family members of the Heavy Airlift Wing.
It is, truly, an historical day.
Prime Minister Bajnai, Minister Szekeres, may I pass on our thanks to Hungary - from the Secretary General, from the Alliance - for hosting this important new capability, and for arranging this impressive ceremony. Let me congratulate all participating nations, once again, for making this important project a reality. And, I must say, I look forward to seeing reports of the first successful SAC missions contributing actively to our mutual security and to our operations.
My closing wishes go to all of you attending this truly special event today. As WWI ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, once said, “Aviation is proof that, given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible”. So, our best wishes go to you, the members of the Heavy Airlift Wing, as you take this new key capability forward, and make our dream and vision come true.
Thank you for your attention.