Airbus A319-115 CJ (c/n 2550, OM-BYA operated by Slovak Government Flight Service, formerly G-NMAK), flying display during Slovak International Air Fest 2016, Sliač, August 2016.
Slovak Government Flight Service (Letecký útvar Ministerstva vnútra Slovenskej republiky – literally: Aviation unit of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic) was established on 1st January 1993, the day Slovakia became an independent state. However, the unit has much longer history as it continues traditions of government aviation units of the former Czechoslovakia, or more precisely, their Slovak branches.
In 1953, the Czechoslovak state created its first official aviation unit subordinated to the Ministry of Interior (Letecký oddíl Ministerstva vnitra / Letecký oddiel Ministerstva vnútra). Three years later, its statutory regime was officially issued and included two main tasks of the aviation component: supporting police forces in their everyday operations and providing transport services to government and other state officials. On 17th November 1961, Slovak branch of the aviation component of the Ministry of Interior was established, with its seat at Bratislava-Ivánka airport (today: M. R. Štefánik Airport in Bratislava).
That Czechoslovak police aviation unit survived until the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 1st January 1993. During the years, the aviation component of the Ministry of Interior changed its name several times but the main duties of the unit, as initially defined in 1958, remained the same. In 1987, the scope of duty was extended with air ambulance services.
In 1993, the newly established aviation component of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic began its service with aircraft that were assigned to the state after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. They were two Yakovlev Yak-40 regional jets (OM-BYE and OM-BYL) and one Tupolev Tu-154M medium-range airliner (OM-BYO), as well as six Mil Mi-2 and four Mi-8 helicopters. In 1998, the Slovak government acquired another Tu-154M jet in VIP seat configuration, able to carry up to 94 passengers. That aircraft was delivered to the country together with three other Tu-154s for the Slovak Airlines, as a result of settlement of the Russian debt against Slovakia.
As part of the same settlement, four Mi-171 helicopters were delivered between 2001 and 2004. They were assigned to the aviation component of the Ministry of Interior and allowed to retire some of the oldest rotorcraft operated by that unit.
Since the mid-2010s, decision was made to modernize the aviation fleet of the Ministry of Interior. fleet. In 2015, two Bell 429 helicopters were purchased to replace the retiring Mil-made rotorcraft. The further step – boosted by the first Slovak presidency of the Council of the European Union (July-December 2016) – was to retire aeroplanes of Soviet/Russian origin and to replace them with Western-made counterparts.
Therefore, between June of 2016 and January of 2017, the aviation unit of the Ministry of Interior soon received two Airbus A319 (OM-BYA and OM-BYK) and two Fokker 100 (OM-BYB and OM-BYC) airliners. An interesting fact is that, in order to reduce the costs, the Slovak government decided to purchase second-hand aircraft. In the Slovak government service, all the newly acquired aeroplanes received new white-red-blue livery and additional tail art with a stylized portrait of Slovak national hero, Milan Rastislav Štefánik.
Currently, the aviation component of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic still operates the A319 and F100 airliners mentioned above that provide transport services to government and other state officials. In addition, the unit operates also one of the earlier mentioned Bell 429 (the second one was lost in an accident) and two Mi-171 rotorcraft, all assigned to police-related tasks.
In 2023, a discussion on possible transfer of the government flight services was opened among the Slovak politicians. The current government issued a proposal of merging the government-related aviation unit with the Ministry of Defence. However, that idea received quite cold reception. The opponents pointed out, inter alia, that only the unit that strictly follows civilian aviation safety standards may provide quality service for governmental flights and the armed forces neither are familiar with operation or maintenance of civilian airliners, nor can assure the safety standards would be followed.
Tragic accident of the Tu-154 aeroplane in Polish government service that occurred in 2010 was used as an argument confirming the above, as well as crash of the Slovak An-24 in 2006. Both aircraft were operated by the armed forces and, although directly caused by human factor, their accidents raised many objections and controversies related to operational procedures.
The Airbus A319 OM-BYA, featured within our Photo of the Week series, was made in 2005 as a business jet. The airliner completed its maiden flight on 15th September of the same year and then was acquired by a company from the Kharafi Group. Registered as G-NMAK the A319 was operated by the Arabian owner until 2014. Interesting is the fact that in 2011 the aeroplane was leased to a company providing air transport services for the Foo Fighters, an American alternative rock band. As a result, the A319 received a special livery promoting the Wasting Light tour and used to carry the group to various locations in Europe.
In the Slovak government service, the A319 OM-BYA may be used in one of three cabin configurations: VIP cabin for 34 passengers, airliner with 74 seats and medevac jet with five beds for patients and additional seats for medical personnel.