19 Apr 2013

NZ to buy navy helicopters rejected by Australia

9:38 pm on 19 April 2013

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman has approved the purchase of navy helicopters rejected by Australia due to safety concerns.

The Defence Force will pay $242 million for eight Seasprite helicopters and two spare frames as replacement for its five ageing Seasprites.

The aircraft were orginally built for the Australian Defence Force, but Canberra cancelled the contract in 2009 due to cost over-runs and safety concerns.

Dr Coleman said on Friday that the safety issues arose because the Australian Defence Force wanted to have two-person crews on the helicopters and New Zealand plans to use three-person crews.

He said the manufacturers have fixed other technical issues identified by the Australians and the purchase was considered carefully.

Andrew Davies, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Radio New Zealand there is a fault with the helicopters when they are flown in auto-pilot mode.

However, Dr Davies said that is only a problem if a two-person crew is flying the helicopter, without a pilot at the controls at all times. He believed the purchase is a very good deal.

The Labour Party says the Government needs to answer big questions about its decision to buy the helicopters.

Defence spokesperson Phil Goff said on Friday that the manufacturer couldn't even give them away to other countries.

Mr Goff said the helicopters are not in the Defence Force's long-term purchase programme and Dr Coleman needs to explain how the Government is paying for them.

The first Seasprites are expected to arrive at the end of 2014.