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RNZAF limitations stop Kaikoura visit

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/04/2017

A fleet of Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopters on restricted duties after an engine fault are costing the taxpayer more than the aircraft they replaced, New Zealand First says.

The helicopters won't be flying over risky terrain until the cause of a fault, which resulted in an emergency landing on a private Marlborough airstrip on Sunday, is found, the air force chief announced on Thursday.

The grounding forced the cancellation of a visit to Kaikoura by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.

They were scheduled to make several announcements on the visit before their transport was pulled.

Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies says the fleet isn't a dud but NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark says they are expensive.

The helicopters each cost $86 million.

"The NH90s cost $1,182 an hour to fly and that is 2.5 times more expensive than the Iroquois they replaced. They're also unreliable, chewing through $3.3 million worth of spares in just two years," Mr Mark said.

"We could have bought 16 US Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom or several dozen UH-60M Blackhawks for the price of eight NH90s. And because NH90s are so costly, they can't be put into harm's way or fly off ships at sea defeating their purpose."

The NH90 involved in the incident near Blenheim is still at the airstrip while engineers pull out the failed engine.

It will be sent first to Sydney then likely back to France for a deeper analysis of the cause.

AVM Davies said the flights involving the helicopter would not take place in areas where an immediate landing isn't possible in an engine-related emergency - meaning flights over water, mountains or built-up areas won't happen for three to four weeks.

Nine people were on board when the "textbook" emergency landing was made, AVM Davies told RNZ.

"If you do have a problem with one you can put it down in a reasonably controlled manner. By all accounts it was a textbook recovery.

"The NH90 is a remarkable aircraft, it's been doing a fantastic job for New Zealand but we've got to take a safe approach to this ."

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