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Government recently put $19 million into airline

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 1, 2008) - The French Polynesia Council of Ministers has approved a two billion French Pacific franc (US$25.3 million) current account advance for Air Tahiti Nui.

This brought to a total of 3.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$44.3 million) the amount of financial support provided for the airline, which celebrates its 10th anniversary of flying on November 20.

The Council of Ministers issued a media statement following its special meeting Thursday saying the government would be paying particular attention to relaunching measures put in place over the next five months, "which will be decisive for the future of Air Tahiti Nui."

During the first seven months of this year, Air Tahiti Nui has reduced capacity by 9.3 percent and carried 7 percent fewer passengers, but accounted for 63 percent of the international flights operated in and out of Tahiti by seven carriers, according to the French Civil Aviation Office in Tahiti.

Earlier this month, the French Polynesia Assembly adopted a supplemental budget for 2008 that included a 1.5-billion French Pacific franc US$19 million) recapitalization for the airline.

That was Air Tahiti Nui’s 17th recapitalization during its 10 years of flying. It increased the carrier’s capital to 7.3 billion French Pacific francs (US$92.7 million). At the same time, it increased the government's stake in the airline from 68.8 percent to more than 70 percent. The exact amount of the government’s stake will not be known until after five private investors represented on the airline’s board decide whether to preserve their current stakes.

The Tong Sang government appointed a new board of directors in July that elected veteran aviation and tourism official Christian Vernaudon as its new chief executive officer. The new 12-man board and CEO put in place the team of French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang, who took office on April 15. It replaced the team of the previous Temaru government from September 2007 to February 2008 and the 47-day-old government from February to April.

In announcing Thursday’s vote on the current account advance, the Council of Ministers’ media communiqué said its support of Air Tahiti Nui recognizes that the carrier is French Polynesia’s driving force behind the tourism industry. But it noted that like all other international airlines today, Air Tahiti Nui has had to deal with the increasing cost of jet fuel.

The airline’s last board meeting on July 31 redefined the shape of the airline’s strategic policy, which included promotion of the destination, renewing its fleet and commercial partnerships, according to the communiqué. However, the statement provided no information about what changes were approved.

Tahiti's only international airline, with a fleet of five Airbus A340-300 planes, flies to and from Los Angeles, Paris, New York, Auckland, Sydney, Tokyo and Osaka.

However, the airline has announced it will stop a weekly Tokyo-Osaka-Papeéte flight on October 1 after nearly 10 years of operation, leaving continue with two weekly Papeéte-Tokyo-Papeéte flights.

Air Tahiti Nui also will suspend non-stop Papeéte-New York-Papeete flights after Oct. 24, once again resuming Papeéte-Los Angeles-New York-Los Angeles-Papeéte flights. The non-stop flights to and from New York are expected to resume early next year, perhaps around March 30, but no official date has yet been announced.

Air Tahiti’s first A340-300, named Mangareva after the Gambier island, has been flying since December 2001. The Bora Bora II Airbus, named after the famous Leeward Island, has been flying since January 2002. The Rangiroa, named after the Tuamotu atoll, and the Moorea, named after Tahiti's sister island, have been flying since March 2003.

Earlier this month, Air Tahiti Nui won two Skytrax World Airline Awards for the sixth straight year -- Best Pacific Region Airline and Best Pacific Cabin Staff. The World Airline Awards are based on the annual World Airline Survey conducted by Skytrax and involving more than 15 million air travelers of 97 nationalities. The 2008 winners were chosen based on surveys conducted from August 2007 to June 2008.

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