AIR TAHITI NUI PLANS $731 MILLION FLEET REPLACEMENT

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Fuel efficient aircraft to cut operating costs

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 16, 2008) - With high jet fuel costs adding to its debt, Air Tahiti Nui is aiming for a new, more economical fleet in 2017, an alliance with SkyTeam, a passenger load factor next year of 75 percent and a profit in two or three years.

Those were just some of the highlights Air Tahiti Nui’s recently elected CEO, Christian Vernaudon announced in presenting the airline’s new strategy on the historic world aviation date of September 11. The setting was the French Polynesia presidency in downtown Papeéte. The audience was many of the some 874 employees of Tahiti’s only international carrier.

Replacing Air Tahiti Nui’s fleet of five Airbus A340-300 planes will cost 60 billion French Pacific francs (US$731.7 million), Vernaudon said. And it will take until 2016 to 2017 before the airline can put the new planes into service, he added.

The airline needs to order the new planes as soon as possible, he indicated, so that they can help reduce Air Tahiti Nui’s fuel cost with more efficient flying aircraft. That would reduce the airline’s fuel costs by some 20 percent, said Vernaudon, who was made CEO by the airline’s new 12-member board in July.

There are three financial sources for covering the cost of the new planes, he said. The first is getting the French state’s approval to have the planes declared tax-exempt. Twenty percent of the cost could come from the airline’s capital. The rest could come from the sale of the existing five planes.

In the meanwhile, a temporary solution was announced on September 11. Slightly more than two months away from Air Tahiti Nui’s 10th anniversary of flying on November 20, Vernaudon said the airline plans to spend three billion French Pacific francs (US$36.6m) modernizing its existing Airbus fleet of five Airbus aircraft next year.

The business class section will increase from today’s six seats to 30 seats and two intermediate economy class sections will replace the present 24-seat business class and 264 economy class sections. One will offer reclining seats and a new section will offer wider seats that are 60 percent more expensive than traditional classic economy sections.

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.

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