Air NZ quit work for Taiwan, Turkey navies after top-secret Govt call

A controversial Air New Zealand unit quit fixing engines for the Taiwanese and Turkish navies following a top secret Government phone call, 1News can reveal.

In February last year, a 1News investigation revealed Air New Zealand's Gas Turbines team had been fixing engines for the Saudi navy which was fuelling the humanitarian conflict in Yemen.

The airline subsequently apologised to New Zealanders and abandoned its engine repair work for the Saudi navy.

It ordered an external review into the incident and promised better executive oversight of military contracts in the future.

Now, documents obtained under the Official Information Act show that in the days following the Saudi military story breaking, a top level phone call took place between Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran and and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy chief executive Ben King.

A heavily redacted email shows that the pair discussed Air New Zealand's work for Turkey and Taiwan and the "reputational issues" this work might cause.

In the email, King said there were no issues with the Gas Turbines unit's engine work for Australia, Canada, the US and Norway, but the content regarding Turkey and Taiwan is completely withheld.

The ministry invoked Section 6(a) of the Official Information Act which means the ministry believes if its views about Taiwan and Turkey became public it could "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand".

On Wednesday, the Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he wasn't aware of what was said in the phone call.

"You'd have to ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about that," he said.

But Robertson said the Government had serious concerns last year about the nature of the work Gas Turbines was engaging in and had been clear with Air New Zealand about that.

The Green Party's foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said she believes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was worried that the work for the Taiwanese navy could have resulted in Chinese retaliation on trade.

"To see them interfere to stop assistance to a country like Taiwan really crystallises the fact that trade interests were being prioritised over human rights."

But Robertson denied that the Government was worried about this.

"I don't think it was a question of that, it was making sure that all the decisions that Air New Zealand was making were in the best interest of New Zealand as a whole and of Air New Zealand as a business."

In a statement to 1News on Wednesday, Air New Zealand said that following the Saudi story it improved its internal processes to to ensure its executive had oversight of military contracts and that the "executive made the decision to complete work underway for the Taiwanese Navy and not to complete any further work".

"The work for the Turkish Navy was completed and returned in January 2021 and no further work for the Turkish Navy was contracted.

"The executive considered the Turkish and Taiwanese Navies not to be strategic customers and the decision was made to focus our attention on those customers where we had long term business relationships."

The head of International Relations at Canterbury University, Professor Alex Tax, said he wouldn't be surprised if China felt somewhat aggrieved given our a majority-Government owned national airline was working with the Taiwanese military.

"I think from the Chinese perspective they probably will feel that New Zealand will not be observing our One China policy and they would be disappointed and upset and I suppose they probably would have done some diplomatic representation to that particular issue."

Air New Zealand said its former chief executive, and now National Party leader Christopher Luxon, had left the airline several months before work began with the Taiwanese Navy.

Luxon said last year that he had been unaware the airline's Gas Turbines unit was working with the Saudi navy while he was in charge.