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PM holes up in Townsville after glitch

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/10/2016 Dave Williams

A broken-down Royal Air New Zealand plane has forced Prime Minister John Key to spend the night in Townsville and ditch a planned trade mission day in Mumbai.

The RNZAF 757 made two aborted attempts to take off on Monday afternoon after refuelling at the Queensland airport.

The crew determined there wasn't a remote fix available and the RNZAF's other 757 is to fly to Townsville on Monday night to pick up the 81 passengers.

The trip's departure on Monday morning from Whenuapai had already been delayed by technical problems.

Mr Key is leading a three-dozen-strong delegation with official events scheduled to kick off in Mumbai on Tuesday. However, they will now fly to New Delhi, via Jakarta instead.

Former New Zealand cricket captain Brendon McCullum is among those on board, and the plane is also carrying the New Zealand Defence Force cricket team, which will play matches in India before the delegation heads back on Thursday.

Mr Key told reporters he was naturally a little disappointed in not making Mumbai as planned, but defended the 757s' reliability and safety.

"From time to time planes have problems, even if they are run by commercial operators."

It was unlikely their planned replacement would be brought forward as a result of the hiccup, he said.

"We should be in position to carry on with the major focus of the trip, which is New Delhi and meeting Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi."

He also fended off a question about it being embarrassing.

"I wouldn't to read too much into it."

Officials were trying to move some Mumbai signing events to New Delhi and they would still be able to work on progressing a slow-moving free-trade agreement with India.

Boeing made the 757 airliner between 1982 and 2005. The RNZAF has two Boeing 757-200s, which it took delivery of in 2003.

The aircraft suffered technical problems when Mr Key flew to Laos for the East Asia Summit last month, and in August one made a safe emergency landing at Whenuapai after suffering a suspected blown tyre.

The August landing prompted NZ First MP Ron Mark to question why the "maintenance-heavy" 23-year-old aircraft were flying only a fifth of the flying hours of the commercial version.

He also questioned why the RNZAF was flying Mr Key around when he could fly Air New Zealand.

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