Greg Foran as superman
Greg Foran to the rescue (Image: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONPoliticsJune 17, 2024

The PM should just take Greg Foran on every trip

Greg Foran as superman
Greg Foran to the rescue (Image: Tina Tiller)

The Air New Zealand boss has stepped in to save the prime minister’s business trip to Japan, proving that he should probably already be on the government payroll.

Who better to have onboard your grounded Defence Force plane than the boss of the national airline?

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran is part of the delegation accompanying Christopher Luxon to Tokyo this week. Being accustomed to the luxuries of Air New Zealand business class, he was probably quite uncomfortable stepping onboard the Defence Force 757 at Whenuapai on Sunday morning. The red leather seats are all right, but the interior’s got nothing on an Air New Zealand Dreamliner. 

According to Stuff’s Bridie Witton, the plane stopped in Papua New Guinea for a refuel and Luxon had a meeting with the PNG PM, but technical issues turned it into an overnight stopover. Not for Luxon, however, who – presumably with a foreboding sense of déjà vu – didn’t wait around to find out whether it could be fixed but almost immediately gapped it to Tokyo on a commercial flight, via Hong Kong. The rest of the business and media delegation are currently heading back to Brisbane where an Air New Zealand Auckland-Tokyo flight (with paying passengers) will make an unexpected layover to pick everyone up. 

“We’ll work it out,” said Foran, speaking like a true politician, when asked about the unplanned cost of transporting 52 people between Australia and Japan. Then, continuing to speak like a politician, he said: “The important thing is we’ve got a lot of costs tied to the delegation. Let’s get that under way. Let’s get everyone to where they need to get to. We’ve still got two really full days on Tuesday and Wednesday. So let’s make that happen.”

In situations like this, and when the Defence Force 757 has proved time and time again to be unreliable, it’s quite handy to have an airline chief executive onboard. Foran was also on former prime minister Chris Hipkins’ trip to China, a visit that had its first day overshadowed because of the government’s decision to bring a backup plane along for the ride in case of any unexpected breakdowns. 

Why not just buy a new plane then? Because despite the persistent issues, it’s still too politically turbulent to drop hundreds of millions of dollars on what effectively amounts to VIP (albeit reliable) transport for the prime minister. And so we end up in situations like this, where a group of 52 important people have flown to Papua New Guinea, then back to Brisbane, then on to Tokyo. Defence minister Judith Collins put it bluntly in an interview on RNZ earlier this year: “We just need to get to be a richer country.” 

PM Luxon disembarking the 757 in happier times (Photo: ANDREW KUTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

If we’re not going to buy a new plane, I have a better solution – one that doesn’t require us to be any richer than we already are. Just give Greg Foran a job with the prime minister’s office. Something inane like “head of air travel logistics”, perhaps. It wouldn’t need to be full time – Foran could keep overseeing Air New Zealand, and in fact that would be crucial for his second job to truly work. He’d become indispensable in situations like we’re seeing today. For example, if Foran had been involved in overseeing the China trip last year, there would have been no need for the backup plane. Foran could just have made a few calls and ensured there was an Air New Zealand flight ready to help if needed. Who cares if a flight load of paying Air New Zealand customers were forced to tail the prime minister’s trip just in case – it would be worth it to stop the embarrassing headlines.

Similarly, when a breakdown earlier in the year meant Luxon missed some important bilateral meetings in Melbourne, Foran could have made sure there was a full plane load of tourists waiting on the tarmac ready to help out. Kicking a few paying passengers off to make room for the prime minister is always going to be better than just buying a new plane. 

If a commercial flight isn’t needed, Foran’s presence would provide some other perks for travelling dignitaries. Entry to the Koru Lounge, some of those nice lollies, a packet of cassava chips – the list is endless. Every hour is Koru Hour when you’re Greg Foran. But mainly, it would simply ensure we never have to read another story about the broken-down plane, and guarantee the prime minister doesn’t have to answer any more uncomfortable questions about that pre-election pledge to always fly commercial.

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