The flightless fiasco

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
21 June, 2024

When it comes to international diplomacy, few nations can match New Zealand’s knack for unintentional hilarity.

This week, we have once again found ourselves in the global spotlight, thanks to a series of aviation mishaps.

The latest chapter involved our Prime Minister. Christopher Luxon is a man keen on making global connections, but his travel plans keep getting disrupted by faulty aircraft.

The situation was made even more absurd by the fact that Luxon has a previous career as the CEO of an airline.

Luxon’s mission to spread Kiwi ingenuity to Japan was grounded by the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s antiquated Boeing 757. It became stranded in Papua New Guinea after the plane’s fuses kept playing up.

Incidentally, the only other person still flying a 757 seems to be Donald Trump. But his personal “Trump Force One” seems to be in better shape. And its seatbelts and fixtures are 24K gold-plated, too.

In a way, the RNZAF’s aircraft is a fitting metaphor for our nation: charming, quirky, a bit dysfunctional, yet somehow still captivating to the rest of the world.

But here is the real punchline: the RNZAF proudly displays the emblem of the kiwi as its logo, a bird rather ill-suited for any aerial endeavours. After all, a kiwi’s chances of achieving flight are about as slim as finding a fighter jet in our Air Force. Or even a functioning Boeing 757.

Other nations’ air forces boast fearsome predators like falcons, eagles, and hawks emblazoned on their fighter jets.

New Zealand’s air force, meanwhile, has chosen a bird that could not fly if its life depended on it.

It is all a contradiction in terms, like much else about New Zealand these days.

Not so long ago, we had a Foreign Minister with an aversion to travel. Now we have a Minister of Finance who has no money. And let us not forget our Minister for Regulation who likes nothing more than deregulation.

It all fits with our famous “Yeah, nah” response, a linguistic quirk that allows us to agree and disagree in the same breath. It can be helpful in international diplomacy, even though it may occasionally lead to misunderstandings.

But by embracing such contradictions, we show the world we are unafraid to poke fun at ourselves.

We can only wonder what the Prime Minister would have told his Japanese hosts about his odyssey once he eventually made it to Tokyo.

But he probably thought to himself, “I should find the RNZAF someone who knows how to run an airline.”

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