12 Feb 2021

Former Air NZ boss Chris Luxon says military contract process was 'a mistake'

10:24 am on 12 February 2021

Former Air New Zealand boss Chris Luxon admits not establishing a process in which the airline's chief executive would be told about all military contracts was a mistake.

No caption

National MP Chris Luxon says he assisted inquiries into the matter. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Pressure has been mounting on the national carrier, following revelations its gas turbines unit had been working on engines for the Royal Saudi Navy.

Air New Zealand has since apologised and started two reviews - and there are calls for Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee to hold a separate independent investigation.

Luxon, who is now a National MP, said he was happy to assist those inquiries.

"It's a $6 billion company. Every day there's lots of commercial contracts and arrangements being forged and clearly in the context of all of that, this is a small contract.

"It certainly didn't come to me as the CEO or my own executive team, the people who reported to me in my last four months with the company, and obviously as you have heard from Greg [Foran] ... it hasn't come to him and his team in the 18 months since I left the company. But the bottom line here is, clearly it was a mistake ... and so if there is any way I can facilitate help I am very happy to contribute to that," Luxon said.

The contract dates back to 2019, but neither Luxon - nor his successor - were ever made aware of the contract because it did not meet the company's $5 million escalation threshold.

Not establishing a process in which the airline's executive team were alerted to all military contracts was "clearly a mistake", Luxon said.

"Clearly it would have been great to have been made aware of it, in hindsight," he said.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran yesterday was asked to name the full list of countries whose militaries have contracts with Air New Zealand.

He has previously told RNZ 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.

Luxon said the only military contract of "any consequence or size" he was aware of while chief executive was the airline's deal with the US. He could not name any others.

Luxon said making chief executives aware of the company's military contracts would be a "good challenge" moving forward, as well as considering the ethical ramifications of such deals.

Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman was on the parliamentary committee where where Foran and board chair Dame Therese Walsh told MPs the company had "fallen short".

She told Morning Report that while the current Air New Zealander leadership had showed "really graceful remorse" over the revelations, it was horrifying that processes weren't put in place to identify whether contracts were contributing to war crimes.

"If you're contributing for example to a military force that is currently very publicly committing war crimes, that's illegal in domestic and international law," she said. "So the fact that they weren't turning their minds to that is quite a serious failing."

While two reviews into the contract were under way in Air New Zealand, Ghahraman called for Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee to hold a separate independent investigation.

"It's an investigation that will take place, whatever is made public is made public, whatever the terms of reference of that investigation are, we don't have input into that, she said.

"Whereas in a select committee, there's people from across the aisle, there's MPs from across the aisle, there's a level of transparency, there's input from everyone into the terms of reference, the public will be made aware of that, and we have the right to subpeona documents through the Speaker."

Ghahraman said military contracts with the airline should be pulled until proper processes were put in place.

"We know this is a company that didn't have any processes in place to make sure they weren't contributing to war crimes, and suddenly we know that there's more military contracts, so I would have put an immediate stop to them."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs