Christopher Luxon late to international meetings after 'embarrassing' plane issues, but Govt shoots down replacement for now

The Prime Minister turned up to his first major diplomatic test late and having stood up two world leaders because one of the old Defence Force 757s broke down.  

The Deputy Prime Minister called the debacle embarrassing for New Zealand, but the Government is refusing to budge on spending more money to replace them.

Christopher Luxon was due to take off to Melbourne at 6am from Wellington for a mini-marathon of meetings with eight southeast Asian leaders on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.  

New Zealand isn't a member, nor is Australia, we're more mates of the block. We got an invite as a favour from Albanese to Luxon so he could squeeze in some face-to-face time in his first 100 days in office.  

But Luxon's turbulence started before takeoff, with a preflight check revealing a fault and the 757 was grounded, again.   

"Of course it's embarrassing," said Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.  

"Everybody in New Zealand feels that way and if it was some sort of rescue mission, we'd be seriously embarrassed then."  

Luxon got on the first commercial flight he could to Melbourne, but it was too late and he missed his first two meetings with the leaders of the Philippines and Laos.  

"It's actually pretty embarrassing really," said Defence Minister Judith Collins.   

"Of course it's disappointing the plane has broken down," said Police Minister Mark Mitchell.  

"Certainly not a great look that they are breaking down," said Labour's Rachel Brooking.   

The old girl - lovingly dubbed Betty - was stuck with her belly split open, guts akimbo, on the tarmac and that meant the press pack got left behind.   

At 11pm, there was a moderately positive update that the crew's fault-finding mission had narrowed the possible issues from six down to one.   

The nearly 30-year-old Boeing 757 sisters were bought from a Dutch low-cost airline in 2003, but they're hardly reliable with Sir John Key once being stranded in Townsville and Dame Jacinda Ardern once stuck in Washington DC.  

In the five years to 2022 they were grounded for maintenance 52 times out of 660 missions.  

In Opposition, Luxon criticised a second just-in-case plane being sent to China with the then PM Chris Hipkins. He swore off using the Defence Force.  

"We travel commercial, we charter aircraft," Luxon said.    

Luxon quickly broke that promise in office, seeing value in the convenience of the PM having a plane.   

But the Government - currently scraping together dollars - isn't comfortable with the cost for replacements.  

"Look every option we have looked at around those planes, it's an incredible amount of money," said Collins.   

Hipkins said the planes need to be replaced "in time" and he is willing to work bipartisanly.  

But Collins said it could cost tens of millions of dollars and "it's simply not something we can justify right at this stage".   

The fault turned out to be an issue with the nose landing gear, the old girl needing an overnight repair.