Prime Minister John Key has been forced to cancel the first day of his trip to India after the Air Force Boeing 757 transporting him and 80 other passengers broke down in Townsville.

A second plane is being sent from New Zealand to pick up the delegation tomorrow morning.

Speaking at Townsville a short time ago, Key described the cancellation of the Mumbai leg as "sub optimal."

Key was due to land in Mumbai about 2am Tuesday New Zealand time. The Mumbai programme will be scrapped altogether and he will fly to New Delhi, via Jakarta.


"Naturally we are a little bit disappointed...particularly for the business delegation, but hopefully we can carry on with the main purpose of the trip," Key told reporters/

Asked if it was time to get a new plane for such trips, Key said the 757s had been very reliable in his eight years as PM.

"As much as it is frustrating I think it is one of those things you have to accept from time to time with aircraft, commercial and military.

"It is a little bit sub-optimal, but we are in Townsville and the options aren't great from this perspective - there are no international alternatives we could take, so you just have to roll with the punches."

He did not know what exactly had gone wrong with the plane, and said he was at no time concerned for his own safety during the aborted take offs.

The 35-strong business delegation includes former Black Cap captain Brendon McCullum. He, Bronagh Key and others ate a spread of Subway hastily-arranged by Foreign Affairs officials while waiting to hear the extent of the delay.

In Mumbai Key had been due to visit the Shree Siddhivinayak Marble Temple, speak at the Bombay Stock exchange, meet the chief minister of Maharashtra and sign an education agreement, as well as attend an innovation showcase for NZ companies.

The RNZAF plane left Whenuapai air base at 6 am this morning and stopped in Townsville for a refuelling stop. It pulled out of its takeoff for checks. Then it pulled out of its second takeoff.

Among those on board is the New Zealand Defence Force cricket.

The NZDF team had three matches scheduled against the India Defence Force cricket team a 50-over game and two 20-20 matches.

The New Zealand Air Force has two Boeing 757s in service which, together with a modification project, cost $221 million.

John Key and Brendon McCullum with members of the NZDF cricket team during the stopover in Townsville. Photo Nicholas Jones
John Key and Brendon McCullum with members of the NZDF cricket team during the stopover in Townsville. Photo Nicholas Jones