Air force's NH90 helicopters under fire after engine issue

An NH90 sits on a private air strip near Blenheim after an emergency landing on Sunday.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

An NH90 sits on a private air strip near Blenheim after an emergency landing on Sunday.

The air force's much-maligned NH90 helicopters have been all but grounded ahead of Anzac Day.

All eight helicopters flown out of Ohakea Air Force Base have had their flying operations significantly limited after one had to make an emergency landing near Blenheim on Sunday.

In a statement, the air force said they would no longer fly in areas where immediate landings are not possible, such as over built-up areas, mountains or water, until the  problems were sorted.

The air force's NH90s have been criticised for its design flaws and inability to be used in various conditions.
RNZAF

The air force's NH90s have been criticised for its design flaws and inability to be used in various conditions.

A trip to Kaikoura, ferrying Cabinet ministers Gerry Brownlee and Jonathan Coleman, was cancelled, along with a night flying exercise that was to happen over an urban area.

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Training flights were continuing, although they were limited.

The helicopters were not planned to be part of flypasts on Anzac Day, the air force said in a statement.

Chief of the Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies told Radio New Zealand there was an engine problem, but the helicopters were still able to be used over large parts of the country.

He also denied they were not fit for purpose, describing them as "a remarkable aircraft".

The helicopters have been criticised often since they were purchased for $177 million in 2006 to replace the air force's Vietnam War-era Iroquois.

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A serious flaw revealed in 2012 meant they could not be flown in snowy conditions.

Lyn Provost, the auditor-general at the time, was also critical of the air force being the first military force in the world to use the helicopters.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee  called their purchase "interesting" in 2016 after they were unable to be used during the Pacific aid mission in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam because they were too difficult to transport and would not cope with Pacific winds. 

Brownlee did not provide comment to Stuff about the effective grounding of the NH90s, with a spokeswoman saying he was happy for the air force to comment.

NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark said the helicopters,  bought when the Labour Party was in power, were a bad buy.

They were also more expensive to fly than Iroquois, he said, pointing to figures sourced under the Official Information Act that show they are 2.5 times more expensive to operate.

Blackhawks, like those used by the Australian Air Force, would have been better, he said.

The Government was "stuck with them". 

He called for governments to do more to get cross-party support for large military purchases, as it could help prevent  problems down the line.

 - Stuff

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