Saudi billionaire's jet touches down in South Island

This Gulfstream G650, owned by Saudi Billionaire Nasser al-Rashid, last night landed in...
This Gulfstream G650, owned by Saudi Billionaire Nasser al-Rashid, last night landed in Christchurch airport. PHOTO: creative commons license by Tomas Del Coro.
As travel bans see virtually all global air traffic grounded, a high-end private jet owned by a Saudi billionaire last night landed in Christchurch.

The plane, a $100m Gulfstream owned by Saudi-based Rashid Engineering, took off from Georgia in the United States, stopping over at Honolulu, before landing last night at Christchurch Airport at 8:11pm.

The plane's apparent ultimate owner - Nasser Al Rashid - is reported to be a billionaire with close ties to the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia.

Christchurch airport communications manager Yvonne Densem said she was aware of the flight and said it was managed appropriately.

"I can confirm the plane landed after dark last night, and was met by officials from the Ministry of Health and all approved protocols were followed," she said.

The plane, a top-end Gulfstream G650, was acquired brand-new by Rashid Engineering in 2014 when it had a price tag of around $125m.

Questions sent to Rashid Engineering this morning about Al-Rashid and their plane's visit to New Zealand were not immediately answered this morning.

Customs this morning said approval for the flight had been sought in early March and the plane arrived this morning with only five crew on board and was expected to depart later today with four passengers added.

"Private aircraft operators have been notified of the new travel measures that have come into effect, and passengers or crew from private flights are being processed in the same manner, and are subject to the same entry criteria as those arriving from commercial craft. Customs works closely with airport companies to ensure these processes are being followed," the spokeperson said.

Nasser Al Rashid is described in various business publication as a Saudi-based billionaire, and his palatial boat Lady Moura - 104m in length and requiring 60 crew - was last year described as the world's 19th-most expensive superyacht.

Nasser Al Rashid's personal website describes him as an engineer who founded and chairs Rashid Engineering, and is a donor of millions to medical and educational institutions in the United States and Saudi Arabia.

One aviation industry official told the Herald that, given the travel ban, the private jet's landing would likely have required MFAT approval and was could well be a repatriation flight for Saudi nationals.

The plane last visited New Zealand in early February, after flying from Hawaii to Auckland and staying for two nights before departing for Japan.

Nasser Al Rashid's previous jet had appeared in the Panama Papers - a trove of leaked documents from international trust from Appleby's - that showed the use of entities in Bermuda and Isle of Mann companies to warehouse his plane.

Queenstown Corporate Jet Services chief executive Peter Van Dy said he was unaware of last nights' flight, and all his company's traffic had ceased in the past week. "It's all gone very quiet in our business," he said.

The jet was one of only a handful of - mostly commercial - flights into New Zealand last night, as New Zealand and other country's travel bans kick in and all air traffic globally becomes largely grounded.

Earlier this week Air New Zealand announced that, given widespread international travel bans and the bottom falling out of the tourism market, it would be slashing it number of weekly international flights into New Zealand - now largely focused on cargo, and landing exclusively at Auckland International Airport - to just 17.

-Additional reporting by Keith Ng

Local journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Otago Daily Times reporters and photographers continue to bring you the stories that matter - yours. For more than 150 years our journalists have provided readers with local news you can trust. This is now more important than ever.

As advertising drops off during the pandemic, support from our readers is crucial. You can help us continue to bring you news you can trust by subscribing to our print or digital editions, or by making a donation.

Become a Supporter