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New Zealand prime minister hitches ride on commercial plane after jet breaks down

By Lilit Marcus, CNN

(CNN) — If a plane has to make an unscheduled landing, that often means there’s been some kind of medical emergency on board. But an Air New Zealand plane had a very different reason for making an unplanned stop yesterday – they were picking up the country’s prime minister after his government aircraft broke down.

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and a group of prominent business leaders were en route to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. They were traveling on a Royal New Zealand Defense Force plane, which stopped in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to refuel.

That’s when disaster struck – the plane, a Boeing 757 that is more than 30 years old, had a fuse issue and couldn’t continue the journey. Luxon’s office confirmed the plane’s breakdown to Reuters.

Luckily, one of the 50-some business leaders in the delegation was Air New Zealand (ANZ) CEO Greg Foran. He then arranged for an ANZ commercial flight traveling from Auckland to Tokyo to swing by Port Moresby and pick up some of the stranded passengers, including Luxon, the airline confirmed to CNN.

Coincidentally, Luxon, who was elected in 2023, spent seven years as the CEO of Air New Zealand before getting into politics.

New Zealand’s defense minister, Judith Collins, called the situation “embarrassing” in an interview with Kiwi radio station Newstalk ZB.

“We have a very old aircraft and we are expecting it to perform like brand new out of the box and that’s simply not going to happen,” Collins said. “No PM wants to spend an awful amount of money on something that’s seen as nice to have by some people.”

This isn’t the first time a plane breakdown has left a New Zealand leader stranded. In 2022, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was forced to spend additional time at the country’s Scott Base in Antarctica when the plane that was supposed to take her back home had a mechanical issue. She and her team ended up getting a ride on an Italian military jet.

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