WELLINGTON -- The New Zealand air force announced Tuesday that its controversial new NH90 helicopters had been cleared for "non-tactical" operations within the country a full year after the force began flying them.
The European-made medium utility helicopter had completed the first phase of its operational testing and evaluation, allowing it to "undertake some operational tasking," Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Chief, Air Vice-Marshall Peter Stockwell, said.
"It's a significant milestone for the RNZAF," Stockwell said in a statement.
"The NH90 is now cleared to undertake New Zealand-based passenger and cargo tasks that will enable non-tactical support to government agencies and the other services," he said.
The NH90 incorporated new technologies and capabilities that represented a substantial improvement over the RNZAF's fleet of aging Iroquois helicopters.
"We still have plenty of work to do before the NH90 is cleared for full operational tasks and deployed situations, but good progress is being made," Stockwell said.
So far four of the eight NH90 helicopters had been delivered, with the remaining four expected over the next year.
In April last year, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) was forced to deny claims in a report by the auditor-general that the NH90 helicopters could not be used in snowy conditions because of a design flaw that left their engines vulnerable to flying debris.
The RNZAF was the first military force to use the NH90s, which the government ordered from Nato Helicopter Industries in 2006.
The NH90 was chosen as the cornerstone of NZDF capability for the next 30 years and to ensure greater compatibility with the country's security partners.