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Tautoko tāngata, tautoko hapori

Our size, skills, equipment and training means we're geared for combat. But when you’re as large as the Air Force, with highly skilled personnel and specialised assets, you end up being very valuable in other emergency situations.

The Air Force has around 2,500 personnel. It has disciplined forces and fleets of aircraft. Our resources are on a scale that civilian authorities can’t match; and the best thing about us is that we're available at short notice when a crisis happens, whether it's in New Zealand, or further afield with our Pacific neighbours.

Government agencies, such as the National Maritime Coordination Centre or the National Emergency Management Agency, will look at a situation, like a Mayday, a flood, or a fire, and ask themselves: what is the best way to solve this situation? When it’s on a large scale, or if it is remote and inaccessible, they may determine that the Air Force has the skills and equipment to respond to the situation.

A good example is search and rescue operations. The Royal New Zealand Air Force, at short notice, can put helicopters in the air, day or night, to search New Zealand’s rugged mainland, aided with sensory equipment to enhance the rescue operation. Similarly, we will despatch our P-3K2 Orion aircraft to search and locate missing boats on the ocean, even if they're hundreds of kilometres away.

We’ve joined forces with Fire and Emergency New Zealand to tackle large-scale forest fires, such as the Port Hills and Nelson fires in the past three years. When a community is flooded, our personnel rescue people, survey damage, and deliver Government assessment teams into affected areas.

The Air Force helped evacuate hundreds of tourists and New Zealanders from Kaikoura following an earthquake in 2016, as well as bring supplies into the cut-off township.

We help to ensure our fighting heritage – and the men and women who served during the two World Wars and other conflicts - is not forgotten. Our veterans and what they have done for New Zealand is important to the Air Force. We support the Returned and Services’ Association with commemorative events.

NZDF also works to support New Zealand’s youth because we are a progressive employer and keen to showcase what we can offer. The market for skilled youth is competitive, and we’d like New Zealand’s youngsters to see NZDF as a promising and fulfilling career. The Air Force runs an introduction programme for Year-13 girls who favour Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Ultimately, the Air Force is a major New Zealand employer, providing New Zealanders with satisfying careers that support not only themselves, but the communities they live in. An Air Force base has hundreds of personnel who live and work on site, and this boosts local economies.

These are some of our stories

Search & rescue

Finding those in distress

When the call comes in to help find a missing person or group, the New Zealand Defence Force has aircraft on standby 24/7, 365 days of the year to respond immediately. Whether it is a lost tramper or a vessel in trouble on the ocean, our Air Force personnel have the equipment and skills for the job.

The National Contingency is an agreement with the Government to always have personnel, ships, and aircraft ready to deploy after a request from the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre.

I thought it was another crashing wave but when I peered out I saw the Hercules flying right over my raft.

Phil van der Mespel

A C-130H(NZ) Hercules practising Search and Rescue in the Hauraki Gulf

C-130H(NZ) Hercules practising Search and Rescue in the Hauraki Gulf

Our P-3K2 Orion and C-130 Hercules aircraft can fly over vast areas of ocean to get to vessels in trouble or look for lost ships and boats. They are equipped to deploy survival equipment including a life raft, a communication device, water, and food.


flying hours for air-based searches, fy20/21

Our NH90 helicopters are often called on to help look for missing trampers in New Zealand’s lush and dense bush, on snow-capped mountains, from flooded waters, or from rocky cliffs. A primary role for the helicopters is to fly search and rescue teams in and out of the search areas. Their combination of payload and fuel endurance gives the search and rescue controller the ability to move or rotate their teams at a high pace.