The air force's retired Skyhawks and Aermacchi trainer jets are finally likely to be sent overseas to new owners, though the Government will probably earn a pittance from their sale.

The combat force was disbanded 11 years ago and the aircraft have since run up huge costs for the Defence Force in storage expenses and consultancy fees related to their sale.

American company JDI Holdings has confirmed it has US State Department approval to buy eight McDonnell Douglas A-4K Skyhawks - a deal that was signed in November.

The company paid just $7.9 million for the aircraft, which played a key role in the RNZAF's combat wing. This price tag was dwarfed by the cost of storing and maintaining the Skyhawks and the training planes, which was revealed in 2011 to be $34 million.


Another American company previously offered $155 million for all 17 Skyhawks but that deal was derailed by the failure to get US Government approval.

The Skyhawks' value was understood to be diminished by the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce's refusal to provide support for the aircraft if they were sold.

The remaining Skyhawks have been gifted to museums in New Zealand and Australia.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday also confirmed that JDI subsidiary Draken International was the winning bidder for the nine Aermacchi MB-339s that have not been given to museums.

"The Government's not in a position to announce the deal, because the details around the export process are to be finalised. These have almost been completed but are in the hands of other Governments."

The Italian Government must approve the sale and export of the Aermacchis.

Draken International said it expected to have the first of the Aermacchis in the air by the end of the year, and would use them for Defence Department exercises.

New Zealand's retirement of the fighter bombers and trainers signalled the end of the air force's combat capabilities, with only surveillance and support aircraft such as the Orions remaining.