The Honduran Air Force's (FAH the Spanish acronym for Fuerzas Aereas Hondureñas) disaster response times are set to improve thanks to a new aircraft added to their fleet: a Cessna C-208 Grand Caravan EX, delivered to the FAH by the United States on August 6.
“On behalf of all Soldiers in the Armed Forces on land, at sea, and in the air, I extend my gratitude to the government of the United States for this gesture," Maj. Gen. Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces said. "Rest assured that this gift will be used in accordance with the agreements we have in place with the United States and the doctrine practiced by the Honduran Air Force."
The Cessna was the first of three the United States will deliver as part of its ongoing collaboration with Honduras. The second is scheduled to arrive in November, and the third by February 2016, as the acquisition of the Grand Caravans is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The planes were acquired through the U.S. Air Force Assistance Command’s Foreign Military Sales after being requested by the FAH in January 2014.
Aircraft will bolster emergency relief efforts
The FAH will deploy the aircraft to help civilians in jeopardy because of natural disasters and other emergencies.
“This acquisition will help bolster the Honduran Air Force’s program, Wings for Health, so we may come to the aid of the population in the event of some disaster or emergency, because this plane can be used as an ambulance and to transport persons and cargo,” Gen. Díaz explained.
The FAH uses the Wings of Health program during natural disasters and other emergencies, such as large fires, to bring medicine to civilians and, if necessary, evacuate them to safety. The Cessna aircraft can transport 13 persons -- 11 passengers and two pilots -- and it's designed to facilitate operations in remote regions, taking off and landing on unpaved short airstrips and flying for five consecutive hours without refueling. It's also equipped with weather radar and modern electronic equipment to meet modern aviation demands.
“This airplane has raised our level of operational preparedness,” Brigadier General Jorge Alberto Fernández, FAH commander, told La Tribuna.
“In this case, the Cessna Caravan was chosen to perform multiple functions, among them humanitarian assistance and search and rescue, because this plane is versatile, durable, and compatible with the environment in Honduras under current conditions,” Major Samuel Sterlin, U.S. Air Force Section Chief at the Office of Security Cooperation in Tegucigalpa, added.
As a consequence of climate change, Honduras is vulnerable to hurricanes and floods in the mountains and coastal areas during the rainy season, and to extreme drought in the summer, according to the website of the National Climate Change Directorate (DNCC) in the Central American nation.
Preparing jointly for natural disasters
Providing the aircraft is part of the ongoing cooperation between the Honduran Armed Forces and the U.S. Military on security issues, which includes preparations for responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.
The partner nations are working together to ensure FAH pilots are trained in flying the Cessna and Honduran mechanics are taught how to maintain and repair the aircraft.
“We trained two pilots and two (non-commissioned officers) for maintenance,” Brig. Gen. Fernández stated.
Fighting organized crime
The Honduran Military will also use the Cessna to fight drug-trafficking groups, as Honduras and the U.S. continue to work together to combat transnational criminal organizations.
“This new security technology will help support the tasks to protect the Honduran air shield, so the Armed Forces can prevent landings and entry of drugs by air into the country,” said Eugenio Sosa, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.
Transnational organized crime groups use Honduran territory to smuggle drugs, humans, and weapons, as about 90% of the cocaine that’s transported into the U.S. passes through Central America, according to the United Nations.
Iris Amador contributed to this story.