There are times when Prime Minister John Key is just too relaxed for words and today was one of those times.

"We're a little disappointed," he said when the breakdown of an Air Force Boeing in Australia forced the cancellation of the Mumbai leg of his trip to India.

"It is a little bit sub-optimal."

This sort of laconic understatement might work in ads about Southern men to sell Speights or utes.

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But not today. Key should be seething. The break down was unforgivable.

It's embarrassing for New Zealand's reputation as a can-do country.
Can't even arrive.

It is not just one of those things that should be accepted an unavoidable.

Every breakdown can be avoidable just as every crash is avoidable.

The Air Force has failed at the absolute basics, to keep its planes in reasonable working order.

The two Boeings were bought in 2003, which is not old. [* see footnote]. They are nowhere near the end of their lifespan.

If they were transporting soldiers off to fight or to keep peace, that would not be so bad.

War and peace is not as time sensitive as a carefully organised prime ministerial visit.

The amount of effort it takes for a small country to actually secure an appointment with the Government of India, and hold them to it, is large.

Once that is secured, an immense amount of thought, planning and effort goes into organizing around it, including that of the business delegation.

Business has been denied a chance to promote both their own and New Zealand's national interests in Mumbai.

They can go back another time and do that privately.

Undoing the reputational damage will be more difficult.

At least the political leg of the trip, to New Delhi is going ahead, assuming the Air Force can be trusted to do keep its second Boeing in working order.

* I am reliably informed that both Boeings were 10 years old when they were bought by the Government in 2003 from the Dutch airline Transavia. But I'm also told by an airline pilot that they can fly for decades if well maintained.
The RNZAF Hercules which are due for replacement soon are pushing 50 years.