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5/13/2005 - Article from Aviation Daily - Air Tahiti Nui Prepares For Summer Network Growth

Air Tahiti Nui Prepares For Summer Network Growth
Steven Lott
Aviation Daily - 13 May 2005

Air Tahiti Nui is preparing for one of the largest network expansions in the carrier's seven-year history with the launch of service to New York Kennedy and Sydney on July 4, as the small international airline works to tap into a niche tourism market.

The carrier launched operations in 1998 with one former Air France Airbus A340-200 after the government became frustrated with inconsistent service to French Polynesia from other international airlines. "The tourism industry of Tahiti couldn't depend on these airlines," said Air Tahiti Nui founder Nelson Levy, who now serves as chief operating officer. Investors build hotels based on air capacity to the island, he said, so without a regular flow of passengers from around the world, hotels were slow to be built.

The carrier started with three weekly flights to Los Angeles and two to Tokyo. Thanks to strong traffic on the first two routes, the carrier in 2000 started weekly service to Osaka and Auckland. Happy with the performance and economics of the A340 and eager to grow its network further, the carrier bought a new A340-300 and leased an A340 in early 2002. In May 2002, the airline launched three weekly flights to Paris.

The carrier bought two more A340-300s in 2003 and terminated the lease on its first A340-200, giving it a fleet of four aircraft with a common three-class configuration. "The reliability of the A340 has been fantastic," Levy told The DAILY on a recent visit to New York. The carrier handles its own line maintenance and light checks at its Papeete base with Air France Industries handling the heavy maintenance.

The carrier plans to take delivery of its fifth A340 on June 10 that will be used for the New York and Sydney service. The aircraft is the new "enhanced" version of the A340 and will be on display at the Paris Air Show next month. Levy has looked at other aircraft in the past but believes the A340 is perfect for long-haul flights leaving from a "small rock in the middle of the Pacific."

Levy prefers four engines as he doesn't want to worry about extended twin operations. Airbus and Boeing have made pitches about the performance and safety of two-engine long-haul aircraft, "but we'll never believe it," he jokes. When the carrier ordered its latest A340 with Airbus, it took options on two more planes. The first option needs to be confirmed or canceled this year and the second in 2006. Levy will wait for the results of its summer expansion to make the fleet decisions. Beyond next year, the carrier will consider other four-engine options but the 747-400 and A340-600 are too big for most of its routes.

The carrier has already launched a public relations and marketing campaign for its new service. Air Tahiti Nui will offer three weekly flights to New York and two to Sydney, giving the carrier seven international destinations. There may be a few business passengers going from New York to Sydney but the vast majority of the traffic is leisure going to the islands for holidays. The carrier has five sales staff in New York and one airport station manager. Levy acknowledges that the service may be slow to start but "you have to be patient," he said. -SL


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