Hamilton deal 'would have saved $100m'

ROELAND VAN DEN BERGH
Last updated 11:46 28/01/2014

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New Zealand's only military aircraft builder says it could have saved taxpayers about $100 million over two years, if the Government had chosen its training aircraft instead of a more than $150m deal with a foreign company.

The Government announced yesterday it will spend $154m on a new fleet of training aircraft and simulators for the Defence Force.

The Government has opted for a fleet of 11 high-performance Beechcraft T-6C single-engine turboprop aircraft to replace the current New Zealand-built Pacific Aerospace CT-4E Airtrainers and the twin-engined turboprop Beechcraft King Air B200s. Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said 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.

The CT-4Es have regularly wowed audiences at special events and airshows in the hands of the air force's Red Checkers aerobatic display team.

The new training system was expected to be operational in time for the first trainee intake in early 2016. Up to 15 new pilots and 12 flying instructors were expected to train each year for the next 30 years, Coleman said.

"This modern, safe and reliable pilot training system will enable our military pilots to be trained to the highest standards, and is in line with the training systems used in Australia, the UK, the US and Canada," Coleman said.

Hamilton-based plane maker Pacific Aerospace, which built the CT-4E, fell out of the running late last year, effectively ending a 40-year relationship with the air force.

Pacific Aerospace general manager Damian Camp said the company's proposal was for the Government to buy a fleet of new CT4 Airtrainers to train new pilots.

This would have required only about half the number of much more expensive T-6Cs to be purchased for advanced training.

The T-6C was typically used as a lead-in trainer for fighter jets, which the air force no longer had, Camp said. The proposal would have saved the Defence Force between $75m and $125m in the first two years alone, including acquisition and operating costs, he said.

In addition Pacific Aerospace could have developed an innovation partnership with the air force to develop new aircraft technologies including avionics packages which could have been exported, benefiting both the Defence Force and Pacific Aerospace.

Coleman said the new aircraft would be maintained by Air New Zealand subsidiary Safe Air at Ohakea, employing about 21 people.

However, at least some of those jobs were likely to replace CT-4E maintenance staff employed by Pacific Aerospace sister company Aeromotive.

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Camp said: "Obviously with this contract coming to an end and the CT-4E no longer being a part of it, that probably means some significant changes for their business as well."

Pacific Aerospace last sold a fleet of CT4s to the Thai Air Force 10 years ago and the company remained as one of only three military trainer aircraft manufacturers in the world.

Pacific Aerospace now mainly makes topdressing and small specialist passenger and skydiving aircraft.

The T-6 entered services in 2000 as the primary trainer for the US Air Force and US Navy. More than 800 of the aircraft have since been delivered to six foreign air forces, including Nato, Greece, Israel, Iraq, Morocco and Mexico, Beechcraft says.

The aircraft are built in Kansas in the United States, while the flight simulators and other ground based training equipment will be installed at Ohakea by US company CAE Simulation.

The Government is also spending more than $2 billion on new and upgraded aircraft and helicopters for the air force.

- Waikato

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