Tuesday, October 25, 2016

B757's show Labour is completely out of touch on Defence

The recent breakdown of the RNZAF B757s while taking the Prime Minister to India has demonstrated just how useless the Labour Party really is when it comes to defence.

"It really is time for the Government to look at upgrading the aircraft," David Shearer, Labour's Defence spokesperson told 1 NEWS. "I do think what we need is something with a longer haul capacity so that they can fly from here to Singapore without having to at least stop in Australia once or twice to get there," he said

Really David? What kind of idiocy is that?

Isn't Labour meant to be concerned about health, housing and getting people into work? Every dollar spent on the Air Force is a dollar not doing that. Every dollar spent on fancy jets for politicians is a dollar not spent on mental health, life saving cancer drugs or housing the poor in Auckland.

Why is there a problem with the Prime Minister buying a ticket on an ordinary airliner like everyone else? Because the cost to the taxpayer of the Air Force No.40 squadron is $80,000 per flight hour when you divide the cost of the squadron by the number of flight hours it provides. The cost of commercial B757 flights is $12,000 a flight hour and the cost of chartering a B757 (in New Zealand) is $20,000 a flight hour. (see http://www.defencecosts.nz/flaws-in-nz-military/air-force). In other words our Air Force is spectacularly expensive and owning planes is not the best value for money. 

Just because you may want to use a bus from time to time is no reason for buying one. Most people either buy a ticket or they charter. They leave running long haul passenger services to companies which know how to make money out of that business. They don't buy gold plated services for themselves and then stick the public with the bill.

Because the Air Force doesn't exist to compete with private airlines. Nor does it exist to carry swollen headed parliamentarians around the world. It exists to assist with the security of New Zealand. Admittedly that may sometimes include VIP diplomatic missions but that is not what an Air Force (in a country that is not Zimbabwe) is for.

No.40 Squadron was only equipped with 757s because 1) it got a good deal for them at the time and 2) the C-130H is a very slow freight aircraft which is not much fun to fly long distances in. 

Defencecosts.nz argues that the best replacement for the C-130 is the Brazilian Embraer C-390 which is a jet freight aircraft with air-refuelling and sea search capability. The best replacement for the B757s would be air ambulance versions of the Embraer Legacy 600 business jet.

This is because one of the main defence/diplomatic missions of our international engagement is sending medical teams to stricken neighbours. Freight jets like the C-390 are fine for ferrying equipment but not those needing intensive care. Thus the aircraft is predominantly intended as an ambulance with VIP capability. Not a VIP jet with ambulance capability.

The Legacy has a respectable range of 3,200nm compared to the B757s 3,900nm range. That means like a B737 it requires a stop in Darwin to reach Singapore. However the cost of flying the Legacy is very low. Around $5,322 per hour, or less than half that of the B757. The cost of maintenance is also low. New, one will cost about $50 million but it is completely feasible to pick up a second hand one for $15 million. The Air ambulance conversion would probably add another couple of million to that that price.

To buy a long haul jet with a range of B757 would probably mean the biggest 737 the 737-900ER (Extended Range) which would cost $120 million. Operational and maintence costs would probably triple as well.

So which would you rather see the government buy? Two long haul B737-900ERs for $250 million plus, or two Embraer 600s for $30 - $60 million. 

The difference is $190 million dollars. That's a lot of money to not spend on people, isn't it David?