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Kerre Woodham: We're going to have to bite the bullet and get the 757's replaced

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Jun 2024, 1:10pm
A RNZAF Boeing 757 taking off from Wellington Airport in 2022.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
A RNZAF Boeing 757 taking off from Wellington Airport in 2022. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Kerre Woodham: We're going to have to bite the bullet and get the 757's replaced

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Jun 2024, 1:10pm

You do not have to go back very far to find a news story about a New Zealand Prime Minister having his or her trip disrupted by a shonky 757.

The Prime Minister's trip to Japan, with an accompanying trade delegation, was disrupted over the weekend after the Air Force 757 broke down, again. And it was this time last year, to within a week, that the plane ferrying Chris Hipkins to China set off on its flight with a backup plane flying in reserve, in case the first one broke down.

Remember that? ACT leader David Seymour said, at the time, the extra emissions were the equivalent of driving a Ford Ranger the distance of a trip to the moon three times. I don't know if that's accurate, might have been hyperbole, but knowing David Seymour, he would have crunched the numbers and done the sums.

But it was literally this time last year that Chris Hipkins set off to China with a backup plane. Which was needed. Former prime ministers Dame Jacinda Ardern, Sir John Key - they've also become stuck when they were flying around the world after 757’s and the Hercules aircraft broke down.

In 2022, Ardern was left stranded in Antarctica overnight after the Herc broke down and she managed to hitchhike home on an Italian plane from McMurdo Sound travelling to Christchurch.

A 757 broke down on Ardern’s official visit to the US in June 2023, while she also took a commercial flight home from Melbourne in 2019 after another engineering issue. The then Defence Minister Peeni Henare and a 30 strong delegation were stuck in the Solomons in August 2022. In 2019, former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters needed that second RNZAF plane to pick him up after breaking down in Vanuatu.

And a trade mission to India, headed by Key in 2016, was cut short after a 757 was grounded in Townsville, forcing the Prime Minister and his entourage to stay the night in far North Queensland while they waited for the AA or the aviation equivalent of the AA. “We've broken down. We're stuck on the side of the road. Can you come and get us? Sure. Give us 24. We'll be there.” I mean, seriously.

The miracle is that anybody gets into the bloody things. Would you? I mean, bless the RNZAF engineers for getting the dear old girls up off the ground and into the air again. But holy heck, it's all bound together with gaffer tape and rubber bands and #8 wire and the like.

When Chris Luxon was opposition leader, he criticised Chris Hipkins' use of a backup plane on environmental grounds - and also said it speaks to concerns about the reliability of those aircraft breaking down as we've seen in past times. 

Well he might be singing another song entirely after this. And this was after saying to Mike only last Tuesday: ‘ Oh, no, I've got every confidence, every confidence.’ Wrong.

So back in 2023, when we were talking about Hipkins' trip to China and taking two planes just in case, Chris Hipkins office came back to us last year and said using RNZAF aircraft is cheaper than a commercial charter and has other benefits such as security assurance, and the ability to travel point to point to reduce time away from home and additional costs such as hotels which would be required if there were stopovers.

Well, I think we can pretty much rule out the cost factor, can't we? Using an RNZAF charter does not appear to be cheaper - and there have been numerous instances where it hasn't been cheaper, where they've needed either two planes to fly or they've needed to get in commercial charters or you've had to say to your Italian mates - 'can I please get a lift back to New Zealand?'

I mean, how embarrassing. So I think we can rule out the cost factor. Let's just take a chartered aircraft that can get from point A to point B. I'm just stunned anyone gets on them.

The other point they made was that the 757s are around 30 years old and nearing the end of their economic lives and due for replacement between 2028 and 2030. Bring it forward.

They've got to be replaced anyway. I get that no Government wants to be the one that signs the cheque for a new aircraft, but if it's an Air Force aircraft that's going to be used for humanitarian work, if it's going to be used to police our economic zone, if it's going to be ferrying trade delegations, do you really have a problem with us moving forward the purchase date of an aircraft that we're going to have to buy anyway?

It's not like it's going to be Air Force One kitted out only for the President with whale scrotum skin bar stools and like Aristotle Onassis had on his yacht. We're not talking plush Penthouse for Daddy kind of fit out, are we?

We're talking about a utilitarian aircraft that comes under the auspices of the RNZAF, that the Prime Minister can then get into with a trade delegation and safely go from point A to B point B. I don't think that's unreasonable.

Yeah, they're due to be replaced between ‘28 and ‘30. It's 2024. Bring it forward a bit, because it is not cost effective flying in a lemon. It's unsafe flying in a lemon. You don't want to be budging on your mates when you're stuck in Antarctica or Australia. These trips are important. God, no wonder Nanaia Mahuta stayed home.

Looking at this aircraft - would you really want to park your buns on that and buckle-up? Not really, no. Just bite the bullet. We're just going to have to do it. It's a necessary expense.


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