ERROL PARKER | Editor-at-large | Contact
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is facing strong opposition this week after he floated the idea of replacing the country’s Douglas DC-6 VIP transport aircraft earlier than budgeted.
While politicians, sometimes even the Prime Minister, typically fly commercial when they can, some trips are too long for the propellor aircraft to take on in a timely manner.
Mr Hipkins said his recent trip to the United Kingdom is proof that it’s time for the DC-6 to be retired from the fleet and replaced with either a Boeing 717 or at the very worst, a second-hand Comac C919.
The trip from Auckland to London took 17 days.
Variables such as the weather and the NZ Government’s Diners Club card not being accepted by Houthi rebels after the plane was forced to land in Yemen because of a strong headwind leaving Sri Lanka. After filling the plane with 15 tonnes of avgas, a New Zealand Air Force pilot tried to pay with the once-popular credit card, only to be told they don’t take it.
“They took my watch, shoes and my Dell Inspiron as payment,” said Mr Hipkins this afternoon.
“Not only that, they took my junior media advisor, Roy-John Clarke. We had no choice but to leave him there. They said they’d look after him.”
The NZ delegation was able to land in Jordan to phone their British counterparts, telling them they would be late.
“We had to stop in Bulgaria to get some more fuel. Again, we were immediately robbed. We tried to make it to Serbia but again, we can’t fly above the weather and we got blown around in a storm. They made the pilots swap clothes with them. I had to give my suit jacket to a man who was obviously too fat to wear it,” he said.
“They were smoking cigarettes on board. Only Helen Clarke is allowed to do that.”
After landing in Italy, the ground staff at a Milan airport openly mocked Mr Hipkins and laughed at the NZ Government’s Diners Club card.
“It’s a national embarrassment,” he said.
“We need to buy some new planes before we have to suffer the ultimate shame of asking the Australians to give us a lift.”
More to come.