RNZAF's MB-339CB, a time when in service (photo : Airforce Technology)
The Defence Force's mothballed Skyhawk jets could be museum pieces after tomorrow unless a concrete offer is made, and Prime Minister John Key says one may even be given to Australia.
The 17 Skyhawks and 17 Aermacchi trainers have for several years been on the radar of US company Tactical Air Services (TAS) which has struggled to raise funds and a deal has never been closed.
The US State Department approved the sale of the aircraft to TAS but that approval is due to expire tomorrow, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said today.
He said it was the purchaser's responsibility to apply to the State Department for an extension, but he didn't appear confident of a deal.
"The reality is that they have got a very limited period of time which to have a respectable deal or we will have to have other alternatives," he said.
"The purchaser has to either buy them or we have to come up with another plan that is most likely museum pieces."
RNZAF's A-4K, a time when in service (photo : Aviation Spectator)
The Skyhawks date back to the 1960s and Dr Mapp said that meant they were near the end of their lives, while the mothballed Aermacchis were from the 1980s and could potentially be split and sold separately.
The man behind the supposed deal, TAS principal and former fighter pilot Larry "Hoss" Pearson, last week told NZPA he was confident it would go ahead "very soon" but on advice from his lawyer wouldn't be more specific.
The jets were decommissioned by the Labour government in 2001 but have still cost the taxpayer millions to maintain and keep in a saleable condition, and Dr Mapp said Labour needed to take responsibility for that. "They are the ones who thought they could sell effectively 45 year old aircraft, that has proven not to be the case."
Labour had them on the books at $155 million and said in 2005 a deal had been done with TAS to sell them at that price.
Questioned about whether the buyer was credible, Labour leader Phil Goff said today he believed that was the case as long the company had access to funding.
"We got the Defence Department and State Department to approve this sale, but the buyer hasn't been able to find a cornerstone shareholder, and I guess that has something to do with the global financial crisis in the United States."
Prime Minister John Key said the jets had presented a long-standing problem and frustration for the Government.
"The reality is that even if we could sell them there has been an enormous cost actually in refurbishing them and getting them up and running again..."
Mr Key said there was a possibility some of the Skyhawks could go to clubs around New Zealand and one might even be given to Australia.
"I think it's just historic, I think they would like to have one in their collection over there and I think it would be a nice gesture on our part. Let's face it, there are not a lot of buyers clambering all over them."
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Air Force Aermacchi Jets Might Return to Service
12 Januari 2008
The new Government may look at bringing the air force's decommissioned Aermacchi jets back into service.
The 17 Aermacchi jets and the air force's combat wing of 17 Skyhawk fighter bombers were axed by the Labour government in 2001.
The Skyhawks have been in storage since then waiting for a buyer but the Aermacchis have been regularly flown to keep them operational.
An American company bid to buy the aircraft for $155 million was blocked by the American State Department.
New Defence Minister Wayne Mapp's office was asked by NZPA under the Official Information Act if there was a move to restore the Aermacchis to operational service to work with the army and the navy.
He responded that a defence white paper due to be completed next year would "provide a process to consider whether it is desirable to retain some level of jet training capability".
A year ago then defence minister Phil Goff decided the Aermacchi jets were not suitable to replace the air force's King Air advanced pilot training aircraft.
He said Aermacchis were not suitable for providing full training capabilities necessary for the Royal New Zealand Air Force's upgraded C130 Hercules, P3 Orions and 757s and the new helicopter fleets.
Mr Mapp said the sale process for the Skyhawks was continuing.
"Two companies are bidding for US Department of Defence contracts for air training support, which would require the use of ex-RNZAF aircraft.
"If either of these companies is successful, the US State Department and the US Department of Defense have undertaken to fast-track approval for the sale of the aircraft," Mr Mapp said.
He said the Government had spent $1.272 million maintaining the Skyhawks since they were taken out of commission in December, 2001. That was $15,700 a month.
He said a protective plastic covering on the aircraft was working and not letting water in between the protective coating and the skin of the aircraft.
He said some water got into four cockpits during heavy rain after the cockpits were not properly sealed following a routine maintenance inspection. Some components were removed for servicing.