New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins took two air force jets with him on a trip to China in case the one he was traveling in broke down.
Hipkins flew to Beijing on Sunday in a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757, leading a delegation of company executives in the hope of expanding trade with his nation’s biggest export market.
A second 757 accompanied the first as far as Manila in the Philippines, acting as a backup in case of any mechanical problems, the Prime Minister’s office said Monday in Wellington.
Given the importance of the trip and the long distance involved, “it was considered that a backup aircraft was justified to ensure the success of the mission to our largest trade partner,” a spokesperson said.
“The 757s are around 30 years old, are nearing the end of their economic lives, and are due for replacement between 2028 and 2030.”
Opposition parties said the need to take a second aircraft was an environmental embarrassment to the country and illustrated the poor state of its defense force.
“If we’ve got a climate emergency it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a second 30-year-old 757 trailing the other one,” Christopher Luxon, leader of the main opposition National Party, told NewstalkZB.
David Seymour, leader of the libertarian ACT Party, claimed the amount of CO2 emitted by the extra plane “would be the equivalent of someone driving a Ford Ranger 606 times the length of New Zealand.”
“Some people might bring a spare phone charger with them while traveling overseas in case they lose one or it breaks.
Chris Hipkins needs to bring a spare Boeing aircraft with him,” said Seymour. “New Zealand’s out-of-date air fleet is becoming a source of national embarrassment.”
New Zealand’s aging air force fleet has a track record of stranding politicians due to mechanical problems.
Last year, then prime minister Jacinda Ardern got stuck on Antarctica when her air force C-130 transport plane broke down. She had to be flown home by an Italian aircraft.
When Ardern visited the US earlier in 2022 to meet with President Joe Biden, her Boeing broke down in Washington and she had to leave on a commercial flight instead.
Another breakdown last year left Defence Minister Peeni Henare and a 30-strong delegation stuck in the Solomon Islands.
In 2016, then prime minister John Key was stuck in the Australian city of Townsville overnight after the 757 carrying a trade delegation to India broke down.
The air force dispatched a second plane, and Key’s group had to shorten its visit to India by a day.
Hipkins’ spokesperson said the second aircraft will now fly to Darwin in Australia “to provide support for the return journey of the primary aircraft if required.”