French Polynesian regional carrier Air Tahiti is considering procuring jets so it can expand international routes from its home base of Papeete, CEO Manate Vivish told ATW on the sidelines of this week’s IATA Aviation Day in Mauritius.

The carrier is evaluating the Airbus A220-100 (formerly the Bombardier CS100) and Embraer 195-E2. “We are thinking about a maximum of a 100-seat aircraft. As a first step, we would order two aircraft,” Vivish said. The aircraft would enter service in two to three years, he said, so a decision must be made in the near future.

One of the most frequent services—up to 12 daily flights—is from Papeete to the tourism destination of Bora Bora. “Also on such a route, we could use jets like the A220-100. The airport could accommodate them,” he said. 

So far, the only international route for Air Tahiti is a twice-weekly service from Papeete to Rarotonga, Cook Islands. “But we are thinking about how to expand the regional network,” he said. Adding jets also would be in preparation for an Open Skies policy in Tahiti.

Air Tahiti only operates turboprops—it has seven ATR 72-600s and two ATR 42-600s. Another ATR 72 may join the fleet in 2019.

“We operate the world shortest ATR route from Papeete to Moorea in 7 min. and the world’s longest ATR route from Papeete to the Gambier Islands [Totegegie Airport, also in French Polynesia] in 3 hr. 40 min.,” Vivish noted.

Because of the remote position of Tahiti and French Polynesia in the South Pacific, the carrier must be self-sufficient in terms of training and heavy maintenance, such as D checks, Vivish pointed out, adding, “We are so far from everything and we are challenged with fuel prices.”

He said, “We operate many thin routes [in terms of demand], like to the [Pacific] Leeward Islands or Marquesas. We have a total of 46 domestic routes, but only five or six are financially sustainable. These routes have to subsidize the loss-making domestic routes. We have to balance this,” Vivish explained, adding the government does not subsidize necessary routes for people who live on these Islands. “We do this on our own [financial] risk, because we think it is necessary to provide this service. However, we are able to manage a margin of 3%-4%.”

Air Tahiti is owned by local financiers, banks and 13% by the Tahitian government. Of the carrier’s 1,300 employees, 400 support international flights for other airlines in Papeete.

Air Tahiti transports about 800,000 passengers annually within the Islands of French Polynesia, 60% on the trunk routes previously mentioned.

During IATA’s Aviation Day in Mauritius, one of the topics was the challenging environment for airlines from small Islands states and their airlines like Air Tahiti. IATA DG & CEO Alexandre de Juniac said during the conference that “90 million passengers travel with 60 such carriers worldwide, which operate 370 aircraft.”

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at