LONDON — The Royal New Zealand Air Force has begun operations with its fleet of NH90 utility helicopters.

The air arm, which has ordered eight of the NHIndustries consortium-built helicopters to replace its fleet of aging Bell UH-1 Iroquois, has achieved initial operating capability with the aircraft, allowing the air force to begin carrying out some limited operational missions.

“The recent approval of the Interim Type Certificate and initial release of operational capability means that we can now undertake some operational tasking. It’s a significant milestone for the RNZAF,” said Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell, chief of the air force.

“The NH90 is now cleared to undertake New Zealand-based passenger and cargo tasks that will enable non-tactical support to government agencies and the other services.”

The air force has also been conducting a series of flight trials that will allow the aircraft to operate from the navy’s surface vessels.

The NH90 is a key component in the creation of the country’s Joint Amphibious Task Force (JATF), which will be established in 2015.

The New Zealand defense ministry says that while the JATF will be structured for the deployment of combat forces, it will be mostly used for “disaster relief and conducting exercises in our region in support of nation building.” As part of their JATF role, the NH90s will be embarked on the multirole, strategic sealift ship HMNZS Canterbury, which can carry up to four NH90s in its hangar spaces.