New Zealand's former Minister for Defence, Max Bradford, has claimed that the Royal New Zealand Air Force is advising its fighter pilots that the service's McDonnellDouglasA-4K Skyhawks will not be retained beyond next year.

Bradford made the allegations last week during questions in the New Zealand parliament to defence minister Mark Burton about reduced flying hours for the 18 fighters.

Funding shortages have resulted in most of the strike wing being held on six months readiness for operations with six aircraft also stationed in Australia to support naval air defence training exercises. Budget allocations for the wing in this year's defence budget total NZ$233 million ($100 million) to support 4,425 flying hours.

The New Zealand Government is expected to decide, over the next two months, on the future of the A-4s and the RNZAF's six Lockheed Martin P-3K Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Both are expected to be withdrawn from service next year. An official announcement on the way ahead is expected by May.

According to Burton, the reduction in A-4 flying hours "was a prudent measure designed to reduce pressure on budgets. It was a decision taken in consultation with ministers."

Burton told parliament that the government is assessing a broad range of defence issues with "key decisions ahead of us". He rejected his rival's claims as "speculation".

Source: Flight International