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Slow Start for NATO C-17 Program: Latvia is the most recent nation to drop out of NATO’s planned C-17 consortium, delaying the kickoff of the program as NATO officials work to secure the minimum number of flying hours for the program. Plans called for 12 Alliance members and two partner nations to collectively own and operate three Boeing C-17s, to be based at Papa Air Base in western Hungary. Gen. Roger Brady, US Air Forces in Europe commander, said Sept. 17 that with Latvia’s withdrawal from the program, “the challenge now” is to get to the contractually agreed-upon minimum of 3,500 flying hours for the strategic airlift fleet. Denmark and Slovakia withdrew from NATO’s Strategic Airlift Consortium earlier this year, leaving the remaining nations committed to 3,100 annual flying hours, Brady said. (NATO says the recommended usage rate for the C-17 is actually only 1,000 hours per year, however, which gives the airlifter a life expectancy of 30 years.) Delivery of the first US-purchased C-17 has also been delayed from this fall to spring 2009. Brady was confident flying hours will not be a problem once the fleet is up and running, however, saying, “I think people will fall in love with this capability” once they see it in action.