Defence deal baffles Goff

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014

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Labour has hit out at a Defence Force decision to ditch its New Zealand training aircraft manufacturer and risk jobs by handing a $154 million contract to a United States competitor.

The Government on Monday announced it had selected Beechcraft to provide a new fleet of 11 high-performance training aircraft and simulators.

The T-6C single-engine turboprop aircraft would replace the New Zealand-built Pacific Aerospace CT-4E Airtrainers and the twin-engined turboprop Beechcraft King Air B200s.

The CT-4Es were due to reach the end of their service life in 2018 and the King Air B200s' lease also expired that year.

But Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff said the Government should save taxpayer money and Kiwi jobs by sticking with Hamilton-based Pacific Aerospace, which supplies and maintains the current single engine CT-4E.

Pacific Aerospace said its rejected proposal for a mixed fleet of new CT-4s and fewer of the much more expensive T-6Cs could have saved taxpayers about $100m in the first two years alone.

Goff said Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman had not explained why he was severing the 40-year relationship with Pacific Aerospace.

"The Government has spent $100m more than it needed to, buying aircraft from outside of New Zealand, instead of supporting the local industry.

"Not only will this cost New Zealand jobs but also will stop a New Zealand company from developing further its technologies which would help our export trade, through aeronautics," Goff said.

It was surprising the ministry was opting for the Beechcraft option at a time of budget pressures.

"After over 1000 [defence] jobs have been cut, why are they spending more money on expensive training aircraft, on capabilities they don't need, rather than a New Zealand-made aircraft that is more suitable."

Pacific Aerospace general manager Damian Camp said the T-6C was typically used as a lead-in trainer for fighter jets, which the air force no longer had.

Deputy secretary of defence for acquisition, Des Ashton said the T-6C was better suited to the modern Defence Force's needs and within "budget parameters".

Ashton said he had "huge respect" for Pacific Aerospace and the manufacturer's comments were "in response to a commercial decision we made".

"The requirements have changed as modern aircraft and systems develop and of the bids that satisfied our requirements the Beechcraft offer gave us the best value.".

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