Long-range derivative being considered for direct Papeete-Paris services, which would push it to the limit of its range

French Polynesian flag carrier Air Tahiti Nui has emerged as a potential customer for the ultra-long-range Airbus A340-500, which it is considering for proposed non-stop services between Paris and its Papeete base.

The fast-growing national carrier, which only started operating late in 1998, has "asked Airbus to study an A340-500 long-range capability" for Papeete-Paris services. It currently operates to Paris via Los Angeles using A340-300s.

Vice-president commercial Nicholas Panza says Airbus is "telling us it may be feasible," although it is yet to be determined if range issues will prevent services from being launched. Airbus advertises a range of up to 16,000km (8,650nm) for the A340-500 and a direct Papeete-Paris flight would be just short of this.

Meanwhile, Air Tahiti Nui is putting into service two more Airbus A340-300s that were ordered from Airbus late last year. The first arrived in Papeete on 29 January and the second was due to have been accepted by chairman and chief executive Nelson Levy at a ceremony in Toulouse on 31 January.

The aircraft were originally ordered by the former GATX-Flightlease venture, but commitments were later cancelled, after which Air Tahiti Nui purchased them.

Air Tahiti Nui has grown rapidly since its launch in 1998 with a single A340-200 flying between Papeete and Los Angeles. Early last year it added one A340-300 on lease from International Lease Finance and purchased another direct from Airbus. The A340-200 was leased from Airbus and is being returned this year, leaving the carrier with four larger -300s.

Panza says the airline's summer schedule will see it operating the four aircraft on five Papeete-Los Angeles-Paris services a week, plus eight weekly Papeete-Los Angeles services. It will also operate three weekly flights to Osaka and Tokyo in Japan, as well as two a week to Auckland in New Zealand, rising to three in November.

Source: Flight International