Air Force's Aermacchis may be returned to service

The new Government may look at bringing the air force's decommissioned Aermacchi jets back into service.

The 17 Aermacchi jets and the air force's combat wing of 17 Skyhawk fighter bombers were axed by the Labour government in 2001.

The Skyhawks have been in storage since then waiting for a buyer but the Aermacchis have been regularly flown to keep them operational.

An American company bid to buy the aircraft for $155 million was blocked by the American State Department.

New Defence Minister Wayne Mapp's office was asked by NZPA under the Official Information Act if there was a move to restore the Aermacchis to operational service to work with the army and the navy.

He responded that a defence white paper due to be completed next year would "provide a process to consider whether it is desirable to retain some level of jet training capability".

A year ago then defence minister Phil Goff decided the Aermacchi jets were not suitable to replace the air force's King Air advanced pilot training aircraft.

He said Aermacchis were not suitable for providing full training capabilities necessary for the Royal New Zealand Air Force's upgraded C130 Hercules, P3 Orions and 757s and the new helicopter fleets.

Mr Mapp said the sale process for the Skyhawks was continuing.

"Two companies are bidding for US Department of Defence contracts for air training support, which would require the use of ex-RNZAF aircraft.

"If either of these companies is successful, the US State Department and the US Department of Defence have undertaken to fast-track approval for the sale of the aircraft," Mr Mapp said.

He said the Government had spent $1.272 million maintaining the Skyhawks since they were taken out of commission in December, 2001. That was $15,700 a month.

He said a protective plastic covering on the aircraft was working and not letting water in between the protective coating and the skin of the aircraft.

He said some water got into four cockpits during heavy rain after the cockpits were not properly sealed following a routine maintenance inspection. Some components were removed for servicing.

- NZPA

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