Cabinet ministers use air force too: Mapp

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 14:12 21/04/2011
Airforce
PETER DRURY/Waikato Times
DRIVER'S SEAT: An air force Iroquois helicopter flew John Key from Mechanics Bay, Auckland, to Waikato Stadium for the V8 races, and then back again.

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Cabinet Ministers other than Prime Minister John Key make ''occasional'' use of military aircraft, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says.

Mapp has defended the use of military aircraft for VIP transport, saying it is ''part and parcel'' of air force training.

Key has been criticised for using an air force Iroquois to get from the V8 street race in Hamilton to a black tie dinner at the Royal Auckland Golf Club in Otahuhu, Auckland.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the air force should be used only for emergencies or important Government business.

''We do have a problem with the Prime Minister commandeering the New Zealand Air Force so that he can get snapped at the V8s before heading off for an exclusive knees-up at the Royal Auckland Golf Club,'' she said.

It emerged today that Key had used the helicopter four times in the last three weeks, including the trip at the weekend.

Overall, there were 82 VIP transport flying hours last year, compared with only 32 the year before and 31 in 2008. However, some 326 flying hours were recorded in 2003.

Key left on a trip to Europe yesterday, so it has been left to Mapp to defend the weekend trip.

Mapp said VIP transport was ''part and parcel'' of pilot training and the aircraft would be in use with or without passengers on board.

"It makes sense in many cases to also utilise the capability by having passengers on board. Now that means they obviously are going to go to specific places as a consequence of that, but in the process they get training,'' Mapp said.

"Occasionally" other ministers would make use of the air force planes and helicopters, he said.

He had personally used the helicopter "maybe three times".

"Personally, I have gone with the chief of defence and the chief of the army from Ohakea to Waiouru and I have gone with a visiting minister on that same sort of flight. That sort of seems to be a sensible use in that instance."

His helicopter trips had been partly to get to Waiouru quickly, but also by way of experiencing the aircraft in action.

"The air force likes to be able to go to Waiouru, it's a useful flying trip from their point of view.

"Virtually every flight has a training element to it because you always have a senior pilot and a less senior pilot, who is learning, essentially. These sorts of flights make sense from that point of view."

Labour has suggested Key's weekend trip would have cost about $1350 - a lot more than the cost of using a Crown limo for the journey.

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Mapp said he did not have any figures on the cost, but the trip would not have been particularly cheap in a Crown limo either and Key would have been late to the golf club dinner.

"He would have breached one of our basic protocols which is that you don't arrive after the Governor General,'' Mapp said.

"If you're late to an event, it's not a good thing. People don't like a guest of honour being late. They expect a person that they have specifically invited  to arrive on time. Frankly, people have got a right to have their Governor General and their Prime Minister arrive at the times they say."

- Stuff

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