Air New Zealand is accusing Labour of trashing its "beloved" koru symbol in advertising opposing Government plans to sell shares in state assets, including the airline.
Chief executive Rob Fyfe has written to Labour leader Phil Goff complaining that the election advertisement, which is screening on television and the back of buses, "denigrates and debases a symbol that we cherish and one I believe all New Zealanders cherish."
He said the use of the koru to provoke political controversy was in conflict with its core meaning.
But Mr Goff told the Weekend Herald that far from denigrating the emblem, "we cherish the airline that the [former] Labour Government bought back from the private sector when they bankrupted it".
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The advertisement starts by featuring the symbol, which represents new life in the form of an unfolding fern and appears on the tails of all Air New Zealand aircraft, as an approximation of the letter "e" in the word "assets".
It then turns into a set of wings as part of a cartoon aircraft which flies away.
Mr Fyfe said in his letter, which he reproduced yesterday in his weekly newsletter to staff, that he totally accepted and understood that the partial sale of state assets was a legitimate focus for political debate in the election campaign.
The Government intends selling down its 75 per cent shareholding in Air NZ to 51 per cent, a move which could reap it about $300 million.
But he was "concerned by the irreverent representation of our beloved koru" and asked for the advertisement to be changed.
Mr Goff said he was sorry if the airline chief was offended "but I think he is missing the point".
"It's certainly not to denigrate the airline - we sweated blood and tears over Air New Zealand, bought it back for New Zealand, got it back on its feet and we don't want to see this National Government hock it off."