AIR TAHITI TO START COOK ISLANDS FLIGHTS

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 5) - French Polynesia's domestic airline Air Tahiti will start flying to the Cook Islands in April, Air Tahiti chief executive officer Christian Vernaudon announced Thursday.

For its first flights to a foreign country Air Tahiti will use ATR 72 twice a week and hopes to fill up an average 65 percent of the available seats.

"We don't think we will make money on this route but we are still willing to do it because on the whole it will benefit tourism in French Polynesia and in the region", Vernaudon said.

Flight time from Papeéte to Rarotonga will be approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. Air Tahiti already has longer flights to the Australs and Marquesas archipelagoes (South and North East of Tahiti).

One-way fares will go from US$249 to US$356, Vernaudon added.

French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru had asked Air Tahiti last November to open discussions with the Cook Islands government on air traffic rights for such a route.

This new Air Tahiti offer stems from Air New Zealand's announcement last October that it will end its three weekly Los Angeles-Papeéte-Rarotonga flights on April 2. Air New Zealand will then operate a weekly L.A.-Rarotonga flight.

Air New Zealand's October 24 announcement about its flights to the Cook Islands also included a code share agreement with Air Tahiti Nui, Tahiti's international carrier that will start next April 2. Air Tahiti Nui will operate four weekly Los Angeles-Papeéte-Los Angeles flights with an Air New Zealand code share.

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