Air Tahiti Nui has taken the first step in its planned widebody fleet transition with the commercial debut of its first Boeing 787-9, which was delivered in early October.

The initial 787 completed its first scheduled flight to Auckland Nov. 8.

The French Polynesian carrier plans to receive another three 787s next year, allowing the airline to phase out its five A340-300s as the new aircraft arrive, Air Tahiti Nui SVP-commercial & marketing Christopher Korenke said.

Air Tahiti Nui has one leased and four owned A340s; the leased aircraft will be returned at the end of November, Korenke told ATW. The other three will be sold. The airline will operate a mixed fleet next year as it will always have at least four aircraft in service. It operates international flights to Auckland, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and a one-stop service to Paris via Los Angeles.

Korenke said the first 787 delivery is on schedule. Air Tahiti Nui selected the GEnx engine option for its aircraft. The second is scheduled to be delivered in January, with the third in May and the last in September. The first two aircraft are leased from California-based Air Lease Corp.; the others will be owned.

The initial 787 will be used on the route from Papeete, Tahiti to Auckland, and will also take over some of the frequencies from Papeete to Los Angeles (LAX), California. The second aircraft will be used on flights to Tokyo and additional LAX frequencies. At the end of March, the two 787s will be deployed on the Papeete-Los Angeles-Paris route for the northern summer season. The third and fourth aircraft will allow the other routes to transition to 787s.

While the airline currently operates five A340s, its international network can be covered by four 787s, Korenke said. This is because the fifth A340 was primarily used for charter work. The airline will step back from charter flying in its high season, although it will probably still do some charters in its off season.

The carrier is considering a few new route opportunities, although there are no definite plans, Korenke said. He notes the airline will not be expanding its fleet size “for the time being.” French Polynesia currently faces hotel accommodation shortages during peak seasons, which limits ATN’s growth prospects. However, there are a couple of resort projects being planned that could ease the accommodation constraint by 2021-22.

ATN is primarily a “destination carrier” that relies on leisure traffic to French Polynesia. It has a small amount of connecting traffic from Auckland to Los Angeles via Papeete, but this is limited by the fact that load factors on the Papeete-Los Angeles leg are very high.

About half the traffic on the Auckland-Papeete route is connecting from Australia via codeshare partners, Korenke said. Because ATN is a small carrier, it partners with a wide range of airlines. Korenke said the carrier would eventually like to establish more airline partnerships in Europe and in Asia.

Adrian Schofield,