After 10 years, airforce jets sold

Aircraft from New Zealand's mothballed Air Combat Wing could be dogfighting with United States jets before the end of the year after finally receiving sale approval.

The air force's fleet of Skyhawks have been collecting dust since they were grounded more than 10 years ago.

It was announced in November that United States company JDI Holdings had signed a bargain deal worth $7.9 million for the eight remaining aircraft that have not already been given to museums.

But the deal, including spare parts and engines, relied on approval from the US State Department. A previous deal with US aviation training provider Tactical Air Services fell through late in 2010 because of a delay in similar approval.

Draken International, an operating arm of JDI Holdings, confirmed it had received approval to buy not only the Skyhawks but also nine of New Zealand's Aermacchi jet training aircraft.

The Aermacchis were also decommissioned in 2001 but were regularly flown to keep them operational.

Draken chief executive Jared Isaacman, one of the few civilian-trained pilots in the US authorised to fly Skyhawks, said the company received State Department approval a few months ago.

He told The Dominion Post the company had also bid for the Aermacchis earlier this year in competition with several other firms.

A team had been in New Zealand for the past two months working with the Aermacchis and would soon shift focus to the Skyhawks.

It was hoped the aircraft would be in the US and operational by the end of the year, and would probably be used for training roles within the Defence Department.

He would not comment on the price paid for the Aermacchis, but said he was thrilled to have picked up the aircraft, especially the Skyhawks. "I can't tell you how much everyone at Draken International appreciates and respects the history of this aircraft in New Zealand. The Skyhawk has a very proud history in aviation in general, but the New Zealand version, the K model, is the pinnacle of this fleet and we just feel very fortunate we'll have the opportunity to fly them again."

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman confirmed Draken as the winning bidder for the Aermacchis, but said he could not officially announce the deal as details regarding the export process were still being finalised.

"There is currently a process under way to receive all the appropriate approvals and licences to export the aircraft. Only when that process has been completed will the Government be in a position to announce the final disposal of the air combat force.”

Figures provided under the Official Information Act show the air combat force has cost the New Zealand Defence Force $37.4m to maintain and operate since it was disbanded in 2001.

This includes a $6.9m payment to Airways Corporation after the cancellation of radar surveillance contracts and the closure of the air traffic control centre at Ohakea.

Eight Skyhawks have been delivered to museums around the country, and one has been sent to a museum in Australia.

The Defence Force spent $380,000 delivering the aircraft to the museums, including $133,000 to send the Skyhawk to the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Arm Museum in Nowra.

The remaining Aermacchis have also been given to museums.

Contact Shane Cowlishaw
Employment and justice reporter
Twitter: @scowlishaw

The Dominion Post