Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Nearly there: Key's long trip to India continues

Front page of the Townsville Bulletin featuring John Key relaxing with an orange juice during his unplanned stopover in Townsville following mechanical problems with his Air Force aircraft Photo s
Front page of the Townsville Bulletin featuring John Key relaxing with an orange juice during his unplanned stopover in Townsville following mechanical problems with his Air Force aircraft Photo s

Prime Minister John Key will land in New Delhi overnight to finally start his India trip after plane problems meant he had to cancel one of only three days in the country.

There was a round of applause from the plane load carrying Key, officials, a large business delegation and media after it lifted off from Townsville earlier today.

The Boeing 757 had been rushed over from Christchurch last night after the Air Force's other 757 broke down during a scheduled refuelling stop, forcing Key to cancel the Mumbai-leg of his trip.

Key has just landed for another refuelling stop at Halim International Airport in Jakarta, before the final six hour flight to Delhi.

Key will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow, with a major objective to give momentum to free trade agreement talks that have struggled over 10 negotiation rounds since beginning in 2010.

Modi has had a full dance card recently.

Fresh from hosting the BRICS summit in Goa, including China's Xi Jinping, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Michel Temer and South Africa's Jacob Zuma, next up after Key will be Theresa May, leading a delegation keen to signal the UK's post-Brexit intentions.

It's easy to see why a queue is forming. India is the world's third-largest economy and by 2022 is forecast to have the world's largest population, with the average Indian's spending power growing by 42 per cent since 2011.

However, despite being business focussed, the Modi Government has not sped ahead with free trade negotiations with a range of countries.

It has a "Make in India" doctrine focussed on direct investment rather than trade.

Before his meeting with Modi, Key will be given a ceremonial state welcome, and lay a wreath at Gandhi Memorial.

Later, he will speak at an NZ-India business leaders summit.

The surprise visit of a world leader made waves in North Queensland.

The Townsville Bulletin today published a front page picture of Key headlined "India's loss is our gain as NZ PM backs direct flights", after a journalist tracked him down to a local bar last night.

Key told the paper he would like to see direct flights between Townsville and New Zealand.

The 35-strong business delegation includes former Black Cap captain Brendon McCullum.The New Zealand Air Force has two Boeing 757s in service which, together with a modification project, cost $221 million.

Delegates arriving at Townsville for today's flight took the chance to take a rare photograph of both planes next to each other on the tarmac.

Key and the group left New Zealand on Monday, and will arrive home on Friday night NZ time. The delays mean less than two days will be spent on the ground in India.

- NZ Herald

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