New Zealand leader Chris Hipkins had an extra aircraft shadow his plane that was traveling to China.
Hipkins’ primary plane, which is 30 years old, required a backup just in case it break down.
New Zealand’s leaders have been stranded in the past during official visits after their planes broke down.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has readied a spare aircraft for an official visit to China — just in case the 30-year-old plane he’s traveling in breaks down.
Hipkins traveled to Beijing on Sunday in a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 with a business and trade delegation, as well as media. He is slated to be in China until Friday.
“Given the importance of the trade mission, the long distance involved and the large size of the traveling business delegation and media contingent, it was considered that a backup aircraft was justified to ensure the success of the mission to our largest trade partner,” a spokesperson for Hipkins told Insider.
“The 757s are around 30 years old, are nearing the end of their economic lives, and are due for replacement in between 2028 and 2030,” the spokesperson added.
A backup plane shadowed Hipkins’ plane to Manila in the Philippines in case the primary plane broke down and is now in Darwin, Australia, to provide support for the return journey if required, added the spokesperson. The backup plane will only travel to Shanghai in China if required.
“It is not unusual for the Air Force to provide backup aircraft, where available,” the spokesperson added.
The country’s opposition party has slammed the move for being environmentally unsound.
“Some people might bring a spare phone charger with them while traveling overseas in case they lose one or it breaks,” said David Seymour, the leader of ACT opposition party, in a press release on Monday. “Chris Hipkins needs to bring a spare Boeing aircraft with him.”
“New Zealand’s out-of-date air fleet is becoming a source of national embarrassment,” he said, adding that the country’s government is underinvesting in defense.
However, a new VIP plane would cost 300 million to 600 million New Zealand dollars, or $185 million to $370 million, New Zealand’s Stuff media outlet reported, citing estimates from the defense ministry — so it could become a political issue.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said using the air force plane is “far cheaper” than a commercial charter. It also comes with features such as security and can travel from point to point without stopovers.
But New Zealand’s aging air force fleet has a history of breaking down.
Last year, then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern spent an extra night in Antarctica in October after the military plane she was traveling in broke down. She flew home on an Italian plane. Another plane she was traveling in also broke down in May 2022, so she left on a commercial flight instead.
In August, Defense Minister Peeni Henare and a 30-person delegation got stuck in the Solomon Islands after their plane broke down. In 2016, then-prime minister John Key even had to cut short a visit to India after his plane broke down while traveling to the South Asian country.
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