The United States donated the second Cessna 208 EX Grand Caravan aircraft to Honduras to bolster the Central American country’s fight against drug trafficking and support humanitarian relief efforts.
The Honduran Air Force (FAH) is strengthening its ability to respond to drug trafficking and organized crime with a new Cessna 208 EX Grand Caravan donated by the United States. The FAH received the plane on December 8th at the Hernán Acosta Mejía Air Base in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
The high-performance turboprop is the second of three aircraft that the United States will deliver as part of the ongoing cooperation program between the countries. U.S. authorities delivered the first one on August 6, 2015, and the final one should arrive before the end of September 2016.
The aircraft will support “Military operations against organized crime and drug trafficking, as well as humanitarian assistance and relief efforts,” explained Major Samuel Sterlin, head of the U.S. Air Force Section of the Office of Security Cooperation in Tegucigalpa.
“It’s a gesture that we always have in mind from a country [the United States] with which we have maintained a close brotherhood and relationship,” said the outgoing head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, Major General Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, during the ceremony for the aircraft’s delivery, according to the National Secretariat of Defense (SEDENA).
The FAH’s newest addition will also “strengthen the air shield,” allowing for better surveillance, according to the National Secretariat of Defense (SEDENA). “The second aircraft is to increase the cargo and personnel transport capabilities of the Honduran Armed Forces,” added FAH Colonel Carlos A. Portillo Bustillo, assistant director of Public Relations for the Armed Forces, in an interview with Diálogo
“The aircraft will conduct support and transport tasks for the Armed Forces and government agencies, especially in remote areas,” he added. “Their use will be restricted to humanitarian aid missions and the transport of equipment and personnel for the Honduran Armed Forces.”
The U.S. government’s Foreign Military Financing program supports the donation of the aircraft, which were purchased with the help of the U.S. Air Force. The FAH requested the Cessna 208 EX Grand Caravans in January 2014, as reported in September 2015
Each plane can transport 13 people – 11 passengers and two pilots – about 2,000 kilometers on a full tank of fuel and its design allows for takeoffs and landings on short and unprepared runways. “Thanks to these new technologies, the FAH’s level of operational readiness has increased in the area of air transport, which had been very limited,” Col. Portillo said. “[The FAH] has conducted missions transporting equipment and personnel to support operations against drug trafficking in the area of La Mosquitia,” with the aircraft received in August 2015.
La Mosquitia, in the department of Gracias a Dios, remains a key transit site for cocaine traffickers. Security forces destroyed 53 illegal runways in that area in 2014 and during the first seven months of 2015. Meanwhile, in the department of Olancho, security forces destroyed seven clandestine airstrips during that time span, the Honduran newspaper La Tribuna
reported on July 27, 2015.
Honduras is a major transit country for cocaine and some chemical precursors for making synthetic drugs. In 2014, 60 percent of illegal narco-flights out of South America first stopped in Honduras, according to the U.S. government’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
The Cessnas donated by the United States will also be used for civilian operations, especially through the FAH’s Wings for Health program, which responds to natural disasters and other emergencies, such as major fires, by bringing medicine to residents, and if necessary, evacuating people.
“The capabilities of the Honduran Army, Navy, and Air Force must be strengthened to improve their work and patrols, and to prevent the country from being used for the illicit trafficking of drugs and weapons,” explained Eugenio Sosa, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The FAH is bolstering its operations with improved training and equipment.
“We have had strong positive results in the fight against drug trafficking and will continue working hard with all of this assistance given to us by our brother country [the United States],” Col. Portillo explained. “These aircraft are of great use to the staff, and that is a big help for Honduras. Cooperation between the United States and Honduras is extremely important. Given that the technology changes very rapidly in aviation, this relationship allows us to be at the forefront in terms of procedures and technological advances.”
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