The New Zealand Government has begun infrastructure works for the new P-8A Poseidon fleet at the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) base in Ohakea.

The project’s infrastructure will include crew and maintenance simulators, operations centre, as well as hangar, warehousing and maintenance facilities.

Minister of Defence Ron Mark, who broke ground on the upgrade works at the airbase, said: “The coalition government’s investment in Ohakea will ensure the Royal New Zealand Air Force can manage, maintain and task the new fleet efficiently ahead of the first aircraft’s arrival in 2023.

“The purchase by the coalition government of these aircraft to replace the ageing 1960s-era P-3K2 Orions demonstrated a strong commitment to the security of New Zealand, and reinforced our foreign policy interests through enabling stronger defence contributions to Pacific and global security.”

The work will be carried out in two phases. The first phase, valued at A$64.5m ($44m), has been awarded to construction, roadworks and aggregate supplier company Fulton Hogan and involves site preparation, roads, utilities and runway aprons.

A separate procurement process will be launched for the second phase, which involves the construction of the building. Work under the second phase is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2020.

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The total cost of both phases is expected to be more than A$200m ($135m). Infrastructure work under these phases is expected to be completed by early 2022.

Mark said: “The coalition government will make the once in a generation decisions required, after years of under-investment leading to ageing equipment and infrastructure.

“Basing the P-8A fleet at Ohakea will be a boost for the economy and vitality of Manawatu and the surrounding region through the construction phase, and over the long term as around 270 members of the airforce’s 5 Squadron bring their families to the area.

“The works I am starting today will feed into the region in the form of engagement of local services, manufacturing, equipment and materials industries. At its peak, the construction project will be employing around 300 people, many of whom will be recruited from the local area.”

In July 2018, the coalition government announced the decision to buy four P-8A aircraft at a cost of A$2.346bn ($1.6bn).