Christopher Luxon 'frustrated' as trade mission to Japan nearly derailed by Defence Force plane breakdown

By Anneke Smith for RNZ

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was "frustrated" and "disappointed" as he left Papua New Guinea on Sunday after a Defence Force plane breakdown, Trade Minister Todd McClay says.

Luxon's trade mission to Japan was almost derailed during a brief stopover in the Pacific after two fuses blew in the Boeing 757 while it was being refuelled.

Luxon caught a commercial flight out of Port Moresby to salvage the start of his three-day programme in Japan, leaving McClay to look after the 52-person business and media delegations that had been travelling with him.

The group waited in an airport terminal for more than six hours, fed and watered by the aircraft crew, before McClay told media the government would pay for their hotels overnight and for commercial flights to Japan.

It was not yet clear how much this would cost, with McClay saying those details would be sorted at the end of the trip.

"Ultimately there was going to be a cost anyway because we had to get to Brisbane and then get people on commercial airlines to get up there.

"This is a much better solution and I want to thank Air New Zealand, Greg and Dame Therese and the whole team for helping with this."

Air New Zealand's chief executive Greg Foran, who was part of the business delegation, said airlines were complex operations and he was happy to help.

"We have some advantage in that we've got a fleet of 100 planes so we can move things around.

"It's challenging when you don't have so many planes and I think the Air Force team are doing a pretty good job when you consider everything that they've got to deal with."

The rejigged schedule would see the media and business delegations landing in Tokyo on Monday evening.

Earlier this year, Luxon was also forced to fly commercial to Melbourne, when a Defence Force plane broke down before leaving the tarmac in Wellington.

He was due to meet leaders of Southeast Asian nations, on the sidelines of a special Australia-ASEAN summit, and missed two meetings because of his late arrival.

Defence Minister Judith Collins said at the time it was "embarassing" that the plane had broken down, but upgrading the Defence Force's ageing fleet would cost tens to hundreds of millions.

"A moment's embarrassment is really difficult but nothing like the fact that a lot of people are in a cost of living crisis."