An NH90 helicopter of the RNZAF flies along the Wairau Valley near Blenheim.

Updated 12 March 2022

Exercise Blackbird 2022, New Zealand

King Arthur’s Writes joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) Exercise Blackbird in the northern part of the South Island in February. Three NH90s and two AW109 helicopters were participating in No. 3 Squadron’s first field exercise in a COVID-19 environment. The exercise lasted a fortnight from an austere location in the Southern Alps, and King Arthur’s Writes visited nearly halfway through and took in some mountain flying.

The RNZAF has eight NH90 and five AW109 helicopters in service, the former introduced in 2012. Australia, too, operated the NH90, where it is known as the MRH90. Australia is very frustrated with the platform, dissatisfied with its availability rate and its expensive cost per flight hour. So much so that the Australian Army will replace its MRH90s with the UH-60M Black Hawk. However, New Zealand has done better with its NH90 fleet, achieving comparatively high availability rates of 60%. This rate is almost double that of the international average.

The RNZAF put its success down to the following reasons. First is its packaging of the maintenance programme. A lot of maintenance is done early at major scheduled inspections where access is available. Secondly, the squadron’s deeper maintenance team performs well. Thirdly, there is close collaboration between fleet planners, operational planners, maintenance and logistics teams to ensure de-confliction.