Former Air NZ CEO, National MP Christopher Luxon says he was unaware of Saudi navy contract

Former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon says he has "no recollection" of the company's controversial contract with the Saudi military, despite being the boss at the time.

The airline's contracting business unit Gas Turbines has been providing assistance to Royal Saudi Navy vessels despite them blocking important supplies to Yemen.

The situation was recently brought to the attention of current Air NZ CEO Greg Foran and the media, with criticism coming from the Greens and Labour.

Luxon, who is now National Party MP for Botany, told reporters on Tuesday that he was not aware of the contract at the time.

"I have no recollection of it, it might've post-dated my time, but the bottom line is that these are really questions for Air NZ," he said.

"I haven't worked at Air NZ for some time but it's good to see that they've come out and admitted this morning that yes, there was an error in judgment and they're wanting to do something about that."

The Saudi Navy has been blocking essential supplies like water, food and medical assistance from Yemen, which is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and on the brink of famine. Working with them has ramifications for New Zealand and could leave our reputation as a global force for peace in tatters.

Luxon said he was aware of Gas Turbines working under contract for a range of companies, but wasn't aware of them working specifically for the Saudi Navy.

"I think we have all been surprised by it, but I think it's good that they have come out and admitted it and tried to correct it."

When asked whether he thought something that was politically contentious should be passed up to management, Luxon said he thought the company had had good processes to make sure they were working with ethical supply chains, but they had now obviously failed.

"You have to understand I haven't been a part of the company for a long time and it's important that [Air New Zealand] owns those answers."

Luxon quit his role at Air NZ in mid-2019. 

Air NZ has been under fire for the contract, including from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"It's something we have only recently become aware of as a result of media inquiries," she said on Tuesday. "So it's very disappointing it's been so late in the piece we have become aware of it but even more so [it's] disappointing the leadership of Air NZ were in the dark as well."

She said it would have ramifications for New Zealand and our reputation.

"We do have obligations as a country to make sure that we are applying, for instance, UN sanctions.

"Whilst it's not clear whether what happened here would have fallen within that, there are still reputation issues."

The Green Party's human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said Kiwis will be "heartbroken" to find the company may have "helped commit these mass crimes for financial gain".

"We must now be vigilant here in Aotearoa against the culture of impunity when it comes to corporate profit from war industries," she said.

"As a child in Iran I saw a little of the ravages of another Middle Eastern war, which waged on for far too long because there was profit in our suffering. After celebrating the reinstatement of our refugee resettlement programme last week, this latest revelation is a reminder that the best way to help refugees is to prevent our displacement. Air NZ has breached that duty of care."

CEO Foran told The AM Show on Tuesday he has since launched an investigation into the contract and how it came to be.