Air Tahiti Nui is to triple its Airbus fleet within nine months as part of an ambitious expansion plan. The French Polynesian flag carrier is in negotiations with Airbus to acquire a second Airbus A340 and has plans to buy a third early next year.

The airline has doubled frequency from capital city Papeete's Faa'a International airport to Los Angeles International and is hoping to break out of its traditional high-end tourist market with promotional fares. It is also negotiating for slots to start a service to Paris Charles de Gaulle in December. The second A340 would be used on this route, while the third will be used to service a planned frequency increase on its Tokyo Narita service.

The three-year-old airline was formed to link the French semi-autonomous Pacific territory to key long-haul destinations, and has retained US marketing consultants in a bid to increase traffic by 50% over three years.

After the French Polynesian Government - a 10% shareholder - gave its go-ahead last month, the airline has been finalising a deal with Airbus to take the A340-300 in time for a planned launch of a Paris service, connecting at Los Angeles.

The Paris route has been given added impetus by concerns over troubled French carrier AOM-Air Liberté, which will continue to serve Tahiti under its new owners, but has lost French consumers' confidence.

"Europe provides over 100,000 visitors a year to French Polynesia, which is 40% of the annual total," says Air Tahiti Nui senior vice president, commercial, Nick Panza, "Paris is the major embarkation point for European visitors and thus it is extremely important that a reliable air service with ample capacity for growth be provided on the Papeete-Paris route."

According to Panza, the airline already has the rights and slots to increases service to Tokyo Narita, after the second runway is completed next May. "We will require a third A340 for this route," he says.

Source: Flight International