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New Zealand’s leader Chris Hipkins under fire from opposition over backup plane for overseas trip

<i>Tingshu Wang/Reuters</i><br/>New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins
Tingshu Wang/Reuters
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins

By Isaac Yee, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has been criticized for bringing a backup plane on his visit to China this week, with opposition leaders pointing to excess planet-warming emissions created in the middle of the climate crisis.

The use of a second aircraft was due to frequent reliability issues with the current defense force plane, which has left some of the country’s former leaders stuck during previous overseas trips, a spokesperson for the prime minister told CNN in a statement Tuesday.

A “backup aircraft” was “pre-positioned” in the Philippine capital Manila in case the primary aircraft carrying Hipkins and a trade delegation broke down, the spokesperson said.

“Given the importance of the trade mission, the long distance involved and the large size of the traveling business delegation and media contingent, it was considered that a backup aircraft was justified to ensure the success of the mission to our largest trade partner,” the spokesperson said.

The leader of the opposition National Party Chris Luxon said Hipkins’ use of two planes wasn’t a good look environmentally, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

“We have a climate change challenge, I thought, in this country – so sending an empty 30-year-old 757 following a full one doesn’t seem a good move,” he reportedly said.

David Seymour, leader of the right-wing ACT Party, claimed in a post on his official Facebook page Monday that “the emissions created by taking the extra plane is the equivalent of driving a Ford Ranger the distance of a trip to the moon three times.”

“New Zealand’s embarrassingly ancient Defense Force planes are so decrepit that the PM had to bring a spare on his trip to China in case one of them breaks down on a stopover,” Seymour said.

Seymour also criticized the cost of bringing an additional aircraft as “wasteful” and “reckless.”

In the statement to CNN, the spokesperson for the prime minister said “using RNZAF [Royal New Zealand Air Force] aircraft is far cheaper than a commercial charter.”

The RNZAF currently operates two Boeing 757-200 jets that are “used regularly for the carriage of VIPs as well as ministerial and trade missions around the world,” according to the New Zealand Defense Force.

The 757s are “around 30 years old, are nearing the end of their economic lives, and are due for replacement between 2028 and 2030,” Hipkins’ spokesperson said.

Former New Zealand prime ministers have faced political embarrassment after their planes broke down on official trips.

In 2016, then leader John Key cut short his visit to India after the RNZAF Boeing 757 plane carrying him and his delegation broke down during a stopover in Australia, RNZ reported.

Three years later, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her staff had to take a commercial flight from Melbourne to Auckland after a computer failure grounded the 757 Air Force plane scheduled to bring her home, according to RNZ.

Hipkins is leading a 29-strong business delegation to Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai from June 25 to June 30 in a bid to boost export growth with China.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Asia/Pacific

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