11 Feb 2021

Air New Zealand apologises to MPs over Royal Saudi Navy contract

6:05 pm on 11 February 2021

Another day, another apology from Air New Zealand over the Royal Saudi Navy contract.

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Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran speaking to MPs at a parliamentary committee today. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The national carrier's admitted its gas turbines unit had been working on engines for the Saudi Navy, which has been blocking food and medicine getting into Yemen - in the throes of a humanitarian crisis.

Air New Zealand has terminated the contract and is sending back an engine module it was still working on.

Chief executive Greg Foran and board chair Dame Therese Walsh fronted to a parliamentary committee today, telling MPs the company had "fallen short".

The appearance was part of the committee's regular business, but for Air New Zealand it came during a week it's been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

"Undertaking work like this is certainly not acceptable to me and I know it is not acceptable to Greg [Foran] and it is also not within the values of Air New Zealand and our Air New Zealand whānau, and nor is it in keeping with the values of all New Zealanders," Dame Therese told MPs.

"And for that reason, I apologise on behalf of Air New Zealand that this has occurred."

There was an internal investigation already underway and an "independent external review" would be carried out by PwC.

"We want to know what has happened but we also want to know what needs to change in order to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

She told the committee the company understood the concerns of those present, and the public "at the idea that Air New Zealand has been associated with something of this nature", and hopes the review take no longer than a month to be completed.

"We absolutely share that concern, we take this deeply seriously and we will do everything required to make it right and to make sure that nothing of this nature happens again."

Foran also reiterated the contract was not large enough to have crossed the chief executive's desk and the sign-off process "clearly" needed to be reviewed.

He told MPs "the best" he could tell from what he'd been was "this piece of work is the only piece of work that we've done with the Saudi Arabian Navy, and nor do we have any further work coming down the track with that".

"As soon as we became aware of it, we stopped it."

Afterwards Foran was asked to name the full list of countries whose militaries have contracts with Air New Zealand.

Foran's previously told RNZ that Air New Zealand still had "about 10-20 contracts still ongoing in regards to engines for militaries, involving about five or six countries".

When asked which countries they were, he could name the United States, Australia and New Zealand but no others.

"They're the ones I'm clear with at this point ... I haven't had a chance to get into all that level of detail," he told reporters.

Foran said he wanted to take time to gather the relevant information before making definitive statements about past or present contracts.

Green MP Golriz Gharaman said that was "absolutely galling ... having just admitted before the select committee that they had no process in place to ensure that they weren't literally committing war crimes via those contracts".

"That he hasn't looked at it, that's unbelievable that previous CEOs had no way of telling if the company was committing crimes, including crimes against humanity - we should be frightened".

All military contracts should be cancelled or least suspended by Air New Zealand, she said, and scrutiny of the company and those who made the decisions should continue, as there were potential matters of domestic and international law at play.

She is calling for Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee to hold an inquiry, saying that is the only true way a company with a majority government shareholding can be independently investigated.

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