Air Tahiti Nui Evaluates ‘Baby Widebodies’

Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787-9

Credit: Air Tahiti Nui

ISTANBUL–Air Tahiti Nui, which operates a small fleet of four Boeing 787-9 widebodies, is carefully studying the possibilities of new long-range narrowbodies and how they might fit into its network.

Located in the South Pacific archipelago of French Polynesia, the carrier is very much dependent on tourism and therefore on connectivity by air.

Its 787-9s are being employed at their operational limits. “We are consolidating with these four aircraft–operating them as much as we can,” Air Tahiti Nui managing director Mathieu Bechonnet told Aviation Daily on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Istanbul.

Air Tahiti Nui has a market share at its home base at Papeete’s Faa´a International Airport of more than 50% in terms of seat capacity, but finds itself facing competition from the likes of United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Air New Zealand.

“What we are looking at is what is the next level in terms of fleet. Is it to grow the widebody fleet or to think of something different?” Bechonnet said. “We are working on our plan now.”

“Working on an expansion from four 787s to five 787s is a big step when you are small in percentage numbers,” he said, so a long-range narrowbody could offer a solution.

“We are looking very much at the development of these ‘baby widebodies.’ I’m calling them baby widebodies because it is interesting to see, for example, what JetBlue is doing with their product on the A321LR,” he said.

An aircraft like the Airbus A321LR would not be able to reach Asia from Tahiti and there would be some limitations to the US, he acknowledged. “However, everything in the six-hour flight range is a serious candidate and there are some routes from Tahiti, like to some islands,” that would be viable, he said.

Air Tahiti Nui’s shortest route is from Papeete to Auckland, New Zealand, at 2,500 nm and a flying time of 5 hr. 45 min. The A321LR offers a range between 4,000 nm and 4,500 nm.

A small airline must be very careful when considering an aircraft order, especially in the current market, Bechonnet said.

“You really need to project and be mindful about a future fleet, because the demand is strong, especially from larger airlines, which can order 60 or even more aircraft” at a time, he said. “As a small airline like Air Tahiti Nui, it is important to balance pros and cons: to continue to operate a single-type fleet or to introduce another type, which will have a cost. A possible aircraft order will never be a big number.”

In terms of capacity, Air Tahiti Nui has already exceeded 2019 levels as demand to Tahiti is strong, both for tourism and VFR traffic from Europe.

Air Tahiti Nui´s main route is from Papeete to Paris via Los Angeles LAX. The airline launched Papeete-Seattle services last year and this route will be extended to Paris Charles de Gaulle as well. The carrier will also reopen Japan services later this year after a three-year interruption.


Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…