French Polynesia, only overseas collectivity of the French Republic, is composed of 118 islands, of which 76 are inhabited. The territory stretches on over 1609 square miles, from New Zealand, to Hawaii, to Tahiti. Being one of the remotest places on the planet, lost in the magical blue waters of the South Eastern Pacific, the only way to effectively cover distances there is flying. Air Tahiti is the main airline to do it locally, operating on 47 islands. Tahiti, Bora Bora, The Cook Islands, Raiatea (UNESCO world heritage)… All five
archipelagos are directly connected by Air Tahiti.
First called Air Ani, then Air Polynesie, the sixty-year-old company has been operating under its current name, Air Tahiti, since 1987. The actual first ever operators in the area were the Americans during the Vietnam War, and the firsts lines linked Tahiti to Bora Bora. When the company changed boards and became Air Tahiti, they upgraded the whole company, investing in bigger planes to fly longer distances and accompanying airports that were flourishing around French Polynesia with communication strategies.
They started with type 42 ATRs, quickly invested in bigger type 72 ATRs, and, in 2010, decided to renew the float and operate dash 500 and dash 600 planes. The latest upgrade made the real difference for pilots as the aircrafts are bigger, offering a larger cockpit, facilitating productivity and efficiency on board. Manata Vivish, General Director of Air Tahiti firmly states that training pilots to fly new planes and investing in these new aircrafts was a very successful move, as he considers ATRs are the best aircrafts they have in their float. Not only are they resistant, they also use little fuel and are environmentally friendly. His priority now goes to helping the country, especially the island of Tahiti, to develop tourism. Serving the main airport of Faa’a in Papeete, it is the key connector between islands.
The Tahitian archipelago is very prized and competition is serious. Air Tahiti dominates the aerial market with 95% of the traffic – a few transportation options like ferries or ships are available – but still wrestles for profit. Operating on 47 of the 118 islands, only 5 or 6 are really profitable, but, being the main local line, they consider it is their duty to fly locals and tourists to as many places as possible. “We accept these routes for the willingness of helping the country” states Vivish. Compensating profit and loss comes with time and they are working hand in hand with the government to find effective solutions to maximize it on all routes.
First called Air Ani, the sixty-year-old company has been operating under the Air Tahiti name since 1987.
Operating on 47 of the 118 islands, only 5 or 6 are really profitable, but, being the main local line, they consider it is their duty to fly locals and tourists to as many places as possible. “We accept these routes for the willingness of helping the country” states Vivish. Compensating profit and loss comes with time and they are working hand in hand with the government to find effective solutions to maximize it on all routes.
A medical line was created by the company in 2000, Oshiba, to help with administrative and medical evacuation. The government used to call out different companies but it wasn’t effective and accidents kept on happening. Oshiba collaborates with private companies regarding insurance or social security.
French Polynesia is a very conscious and solidary state. The focus on preservation and giving work to locals is a priority. Air Tahiti is the biggest private employer in French Polynesia, counting 1400 employees around these two main activities : the airline and ground operations. To fly in French Polynesia, you need a local license, issued by the French Government only, and aircrafts need to be AOC labelled to operate.
The US market represents 10% of total traffic on Air Tahiti. It would be interesting for the company to collaborate with airlines and companies that connect with the US market. Work is already done with tour operators in California, but there is so much more to do. Breathtaking tours can be organized, offering very different features than what prized Hawaii has to offer. Only a third of Americans explore French Polynesia outside of Hawaii. Many tour operators were sold or have closed, along with guest houses, and the market is missing merging opportunities.
As international companies come and invest, hotels are built, businesses grow, and with the recent United connections to Faa’a, Air Tahiti is confident that business is just starting to move. French Polynesia currently counts 280k locals for a 300k annual tourism income. The country is enthusiastic and ready for more.