King Air KA350 on delivery trip at Lord Howe Island - Credit: Wings Over New Zealand Site

Life’s A Beech

Defence Minister Ron Mark announced, on 10 May, the first of four leased Beechcraft / Textron King Air KA350 aircraft has been certified for use by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. I was intrigued by a few statements in his media release – particularly regarding cost neutrality, return of Air Warfare Officer training to NZ (currently done in Australia) and that two of the four aircraft were to be fitted for maritime patrol duties.

I lodged an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Defence seeking a bit more detail about the lease (hat tip to that excellent site www.fyi.org.nz). MoD replied 2 days later than the 20 working days allowed (for the record – we must be eternally vigilant about the OIA too).

B.L.U.F. (‘Bottom Line Up Front’ for those who haven’t spent time around a defence establishment)

  • The near-new aircraft, leased from Hawker Pacific New Zealand Ltd, appear to be a good modernisation option especially if, as the MoD assure, it was cost neutral within current operating funding.
  • “With the end of lease of the old fleet, the Government has made a decision to increase the RNZAF’s domestic capability.” (Ron Mark media release) – I call BS on this one. This Government is taking credit for something put in place by the previous one. RFT 1-228 for these aircraft on the GETS (Govt Electronic Tender System) site is dated 23 Nov 2016 and this first aircraft was being painted in Australia before last year’s election.
  • It’s good to be training Air Warfare Officers in NZ again but the Aussies must have been stinging us big time if that’s the cost differential between the old B200s and the KA350 fleet including maritime patrol suites. Something doesn’t quite gel here. It’s well known that the Aussie course was very focussed on producing AWOs for the back seat of their attack aircraft and NZ graduates had to do more training before being operational here.
  • While two aircraft are fitted differently, these are with maritime patrol training suites. The crews that operate them will largely be trainee Air Warfare Officers and their instructors – not full-time qualified crews.
  • We probably under-pitched the RFT. These aircraft are not fitted with cargo doors (useful for chucking a liferaft out of), have no extended range capability (useful for maritime patrol, HADR and SAR) and no underwing hardpoints (i.e. no offensive capability). The MoD states that there is no intention to use these aircraft for aerial delivery or parachuting (waste of a potential resource).

For those of you who are interested in more detail, here’s what else I got from my request to MoD. You can download the complete response at fyi.org.nz. Interesting fun-fact – the first of the new aircraft is designated NZ2353 – which was an RNZAF Mosquito in the late 40s to early 50s.

MoD OIA KA350 extract