Air NZ CEO Greg Foran says Saudi Arabian military work was ‘poor judgement’

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran says its involvement in helping the Saudi Arabian military was a case of “poor judgement”.

Foran defended the airline on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking show this morning after revelations the national carrier’s business unit, Gas Turbines, which specialises in servicing military marine engines and turbines, has been supporting the Saudi Navy.

The Green Party has criticised Air New Zealand following revelations it has been helping the Saudi Arabian military – despite the Middle Eastern nation’s role in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Foran said he found out about the third-party contract 10 days ago and took immediate action.

“There has been some suggestion that this is some type of secret deal or conspiracy – I can really assure you this isn’t the case. What it is a case of, however, is a case of poor judgement.

“It is also being suggested it was some sort of conspiracy at the very top of Air NZ – that is not the case. This is something I found out 10 days ago, and I can assure you we took immediate action as soon as we found out.”

Foran said the initial decision on the contract was made in 2019 before he took over the reins at the airline.

Prior to Foran’s tenure, the airline was run by current National Party MP Christopher Luxon.

Foran said historically it was a $3 million contract, which was not particularly large for the airline. It was now going back through the process to see if it got to the executive sign-off level.

“I can’t tell you exactly how that decision was made but I can tell you that we are now reviewing the process for making a decision like that,” Foran said.

“This is a business that has been traditionally fixing things such as engines on offshore oil rigs. And then progressively over several years has started doing work with Navies and those include the Australian and US Navies- that is something we continue to look at and we will make judgement calls on those.”

Air New Zealand has also been accused of running from the story and taking weeks to respond to requests for comment from 1 News.

“They reached out to us and said they had some information around Saudi Arabia, they didn’t provide any more details. We realised this was a piece of business done through a third-party and teams within Air NZ wanted to protect the identity of those we were doing third-party work with. That once again was a poor judgement. As soon as that information became available to me which was 10 days ago we took immediate action.

“It wasn’t a conspiracy it was just some poor judgement as people were dealing with a third-party supplier.”

Foran confirmed it would not do work with Saudi Arabia again and was reviewing all its military contracts.

Green Party human rights spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said her thoughts were with the Yemeni community, who continued to suffer one of the worst atrocities in human history, including mass starvation and violence causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, leaving millions displaced.

New Zealanders would be heartbroken to learn of our national carrier’s possible links to the Yemeni crisis, Ghahraman said.

The airline’s move to cease all support of the Saudi military after the matter came to light was welcomed, she said.

“However, we as a nation have an absolute legal and moral duty to investigate, and hold to account anyone in Air New Zealand’s leadership,” she said.

“If those in Air New Zealand HQ were not aware of what was going on, it needs to be established how that was allowed to happen.”

Amnesty International campaign director Lisa Woods told 1 News she would’ve expected the airline to have carried out due diligence about the human rights risks and in doing so consider what impact their services would have.

“We would be appalled if there was any company here (in New Zealand) that through their activities were contributing to human rights violations and having an adverse impact on human rights.”

Grant Robertson, Air New Zealand’s shareholding minister, was not aware the airline had been supporting the Saudi military until contacted about the story.

The government owns 52 per cent of the national airline.

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