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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Oct. 2) – A brightly decorated Air Moorea Twin Otter plane is back in the skies for the first time since Sept. 13 when the French Civil Aviation Office grounded all shuttle flights between Tahiti and its sister island of Moorea.

[PIR Editors Note: Air Moorea was created 35 years ago and became a subsidiary of domestic airline, Air Tahiti, according to their website.]

The first of Air Moorea's three Twin Otter turboprop planes resumed flying on Monday. A second 19-passenger Twin Otter is due to resume Moorea shuttle flights within the next 15-20 days. The third Twin Otter is due to finish routine maintenance work around Oct. 20 so it can return to its base in the Marquesas Islands.

All of Air Moorea's Twin Otter flights will continue to operate with two pilots until further notice, Freddy Chanseau, the domestic carrier's director, announced on Monday during an interview published Tuesday in French language daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti.

Air Moorea announced a resumption of shuttle flights to and from Moorea between 6 a.m. and noon and 3-6 p.m. from Mondays through Wednesdays and from 6 a.m. to noon and 3-9 p.m. from Thursdays through Sundays.

The Civil Aviation grounding order stemmed from inspectors finding irregularities in Air Moorea's maintenance procedures and a lack of spare parts traceability. With the help of Air Tahiti, its owning company, Air Moorea spent two weeks meeting all Civil Aviation recommendations. Civil Aviation approved the changes on Sept. 20, which allowed Air Moorea's to resume its maintenance work in its hangar at the Tahiti-Faa'a Airport.

But the decision to allow the three Twin Otters to resume flying is based on an individual examination of each aircraft by Civil Aviation inspectors.

Meanwhile, Air Archipels, another Air Tahiti affiliate, had its three Beechcraft planes grounded at the same time because they use the Air Moorea maintenance hangar. One of Air Archipels' Beechcraft planes is already back in service to handle medical evacuation flights to and from the outer islands. A second Beechcraft is due to be ready to resume flights to the eastern and northern parts of the Tuamotu Archipelago on Thursday. The third Beechcraft is due to be back in service next week.

"What we can say today with certainty is that the grounding of our aircraft does not have any relationship with the causes of the dramatic accident of our Twin Otter", Chanseau told La Dépêche.

He was referring to the Twin Otter crash on Aug. 9 shortly after take off from the Temae Airport. French aviation experts in Paris are still investigating the cause of the crash, which claimed the lives of the 19 passengers and one pilot aboard.

Air Moorea's biggest challenge at the moment will be to regain the public's confidence, which is why the two pilots will be kept on all Moorea shuttle flights, Chanseau said.

Air Moorea had carried 3.6 million passengers on 210,000 flights since it started flying in 1968. That is the equivalent distance of 950 trips around the world. The Aug. 9 tragedy was the airline's first accident, he said. The grounding of Air Moorea flights for 17 days cost the airline one million French Pacific francs [US$12,113] per day, Chanseau told La Dépêche.

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