The Brazilian option to replace New Zealand's ageing Hercules transport fleet will be shown to Defence VIPs in Auckland today.

Defence Minister Mark Mitchell and about 14 Defence officials will have inspected the Embraer KC-390 the twin jet-engine aircraft during its two-day visit to Auckland.

The aircraft is about the same size as the Vietnam War-era Hercules but can fly much faster and has greater multi-mission capabilities, including servicing New Zealand's Antarctic operations. The ability to reach Antarctica with sufficient payload but with safety margins is critical in the Air Force's modernisation programme.

Embraer has two prototype KC-390s flying and one of them landed at Auckland Airport just before 7pm yesterday after a flight from Brisbane.

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It flew about 10 minutes to Whenuapai airbase at 8am today where senior RNZAF Ministry of Defence staff have been looking over the plane as they assess which is the best aircraft for this country's tactical airlift needs.

Embraer is keeping the KC-390's two-night stopover low profile.

The company has been making planes for nearly 50 years, until now concentrating on the regional commercial market and small military planes.

The KC-390 is the biggest aircraft manufactured in South America and although it has yet to be certified for use, Embraer has said it is confident it will be by the end of the year and deliveries made to the Brazilian Air Force in the first half of next year.


The aircraft now in Auckland was at the recent Paris Air Show and flew through the Middle East, Malaysia and two Australian centres before crossing the Tasman, according to Flightradar.

New Zealand has about $1 billion to spend on its airlifters and VIP fleet in the next decade and will have to replace its five Hercules by early next decade at the latest as a range of modifications reach the end of their lifespan.

The 2016 Defence Capability Plan highlighted the need for both the C130 Hercules and Boeing 757 transport aircraft to be replaced.

A spokesman said the the project released a request for information in September last year to a number of suppliers to inform an indicative business case but the project remains at an early stage and no decisions have been made.

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Other aircraft are in the running, include the proven latest model of Lockheed Martin's Hercules, a new model Kawasaki twin-jet from Japan and Airbus' new giant A400M, which has had some service in Europe.

Airbus made a big push into New Zealand in February and the plane was shown off by the plane maker in Wellington and Ohakea at the RNZAF Air Tattoo held to celebrate its 80th birthday.

By contrast, Embraer has no media activities planned in Auckland.