New Zealand RNZAF P 3 NZ4206 WSSS Singapore Changi 06Oct21 Hans Jacobs file info 640Early retirement RNZAF Orions

After a service life of 56 years the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) is about to retire its remaining fleet of three Lockheed P-3K2 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The other three have already been withdrawn from use between September 2021 and July 2022.

This retirement is five months ahead of schedule and the reason has got nothing to do with technical issues or such but with a combination of staff shortages and extra work that will come with the delivery of New Zealand's first P-8A Poseidon on Monday 12 December 2022.

Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the P-8A is expected to be achieved by July 2023 and Full Operating Capability (FOC) by 2025. Also around that time the remaining three Poseidons will be delivered. The extra activities that will come with preparing the introduction of a new aircraft is just too much for an organisation that already struggles to keep personnel aboard whilst suffering from competition from better paying civilian companies.

It's a pity that staffing problems herald the end of a 56-year long career of one of the most well known maritime patrol aircraft. A career that started in 1966 with the arrival of five P-3Bs with a sixth one purchased from Lockheed in 1985 (ex Royal Australian Air Force). In 1983 a systems upgrade got the designation changed to P-3K and in 1997 a service life extension project (SLEP) was started. This project encompassed the replacement of several structural components such as outer wings, panels, engine nacelles, wiring and adding a fuel dump capability. A final upgrade project was started in 2004 when components of the mission equipment were modernised.

The Orion retirement will create a gap in the maritime patrol tasks of the RNZAF and it is expected that other aircraft will take over this task for the next five to six months. It is also possible that New Zealand will seek help from regional partners, such as the Royal Australian Air Force who operate a fleet of twelve Poseidons.

Overview of the RNZAF P-3K2 Orion fleet:

NZ4201, c/n 5190, still active
NZ4202, c/n 5192, still active
NZ4203, c/n 5200, wfu, last flight 24sep21
NZ4204, c/n 5202, wfu, last flight 29jul22
NZ4205, c/n 5208, still active
NZ4206, c/n 5401, wfu, last flight 20jan22

Photo by Hans Jacobs (Scramble Archive)

Subscribe to Scramble

As a member you get access to all our
premium content and benefits learn more