What progress has been made in modernising the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s helicopter fleet?
There has been enormous progress. Last week I signed a contract to purchase AgustaWestland A109 light utility and training helicopters to complement the Government’s earlier decision to purchase NH90 medium utility helicopters. The purchase moves our much-used helicopter fleet several generations forward—from technology that was employed in the Korean War and Viet Nam War—to the current century. It will give our air force state-of-the-art technology. This is a further example of the Labour-led Government’s rebuilding of the defence force, after a decade of neglect under the former National Government.
How do the capabilities of the AgustaWestland A109 compare with the current Sioux training helicopter?
There really is no comparison: one is a basic training aircraft that carries two people; the other is a 21st century aircraft. The AgustaWestland A109 is twin-engined and has an integrated digital cockpit, which is necessary for high-level training. It is equipped with ballistic protection to make sure our defence force personnel are well looked after. It has a secure communications system. It has automated auto-pilot and is configured for night flying. The other real advantage of this aircraft is that it is wheeled and therefore can be used on our naval fleet, which of course will expand by six further ships this year.
How versatile are the new helicopters compared with those they are replacing?
Rather than being used just for basic training, this aircraft can be used for a variety of purposes. Obviously it can be used for advanced training for the NH90s and the Seasprites—the Sioux certainly could not have been used for that. It can be used for counter-terrorism, search and rescue, deployment of forces, and disaster relief. This aircraft flies twice as fast for twice the distance, carrying three times as many people as the old Sioux, and it is capable of carrying under-slung loads of up to 500 kilograms. This is a great purchase. The Royal New Zealand Air Force is very grateful that it has a Government that looks after its equipment needs and does not leave obsolete equipment in place, like the National Government did for 9 years and for which it is still apologising.