The Honduran Air Force (FAH, in Spanish) strengthened its response capabilities for emergencies and the fight against narcotrafficking and organized crime with the addition of three Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX aircraft. The U.S.-donated aircraft are the first of their kind in the Central American country’s fleet.
The high-performance turboprop aircraft were acquired through the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Military Sales Program, which manages the acquisition of military equipment and training for use in Honduras. Two of the aircraft were delivered in August and December 2015 and the last one in December 2018. The United States provides most of the Central American country’s air defense equipment.
“The addition of these aircraft increased the military air fleet’s operational capabilities and opened new areas where our country’s military aviation didn’t have real operational capability. In the past, the Air Force only conducted CasEvac [casualty evacuation] missions with an aircraft that was not configured as an air ambulance,” General José Luis Sauceda, commander of FAH, told Diálogo.
Airmen carry out multiple medical evacuations (MedEvac) in the U.S.-donated aircraft. In addition, they conduct rescue missions for natural disaster, humanitarian assistance, and other emergencies in the country and in Central America. They also take part in reconnaissance missions over areas affected by floods and wildfires and transport Armed Forces equipment and personnel.
Since their arrival, the aircraft strengthened the Wings for Health program, assisting 336 patients from remote locations and hard-to-reach areas, such as Gracias a Dios, Lempira, Manto, and Olancho. Thanks to the donation, an injured person can now be transported from a remote area to the Honduran capital in about 45 minutes.
Gen. Sauceda said the donated air equipment strengthens operations against narcotrafficking, common and organized crime, and other illegal activities, especially in remote areas, where criminals use clandestine airstrips to smuggle drugs into the country. Through their air, land, and naval shields, the Honduran Armed Forces destroyed 61 clandestine airstrips in 2018, exceeding 2017 activities by more than 95 percent.
“We are grateful to the United States for the grand gesture they made to our country,” Honduran Minister of Defense Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya told the press. “This commits us to continue serving our population. We know we face a frontal fight against narcotrafficking, and can only counter this crime if we are united.”
The support means important progress from various viewpoints. “Basically, it helps with MedEvac missions, which strengthen the institution’s constitutional roles and missions,” Gen. Sauceda said. “From an aeronautical viewpoint, it means the Honduran Air Force can now use automated aircraft, which in the short term will become standard worldwide. In other words, this allowed us to be at the forefront of cutting-edge aviation technology in the region.”
“The Cessna Grand Caravans are undoubtedly one of the Air Force’s best acquisitions in recent years,” Captain Oscar Josué Elvir Vásquez, FAH pilot instructor and security flight officer, told Diálogo. “They give us the opportunity to operate one of the most important aircraft of its type, recognized and operated worldwide with a very high security standard.”
According to Capt. Vásquez, the aircraft operate day and night and are equipped with the latest aviation technology that allows the crew to maintain high situational awareness throughout the flight. “These aircraft save the lives of many fellow citizens,” he said.
For example, a few years ago, Roatán Island didn’t have a land or air ambulance. With the new aircraft, patients can be transported to San Pedro Sula’s hospitals within 10 minutes. “It’s time to thank airmen for that service in the name of the people,” said President Juan Orlando Hernández at the third aircraft’s delivery ceremony. “The Honduran Air Force’s main strength is human resources, as we have highly qualified personnel committed to achieving their missions,” Gen. Sauceda concluded.