Four 787-9 aircraft will arrive to succeed the airline’s five-strong A340-300 fleet, which were manufactured between 2001 and 2005 and operate from the airline’s Papeete hub to Tokyo Narita, Auckland, and Los Angeles with onward services from LAX to Paris Charles de Gaulle.
After over two decades of increasing ETOPS liberalisation, the raison-d’être of relatively small four-engined widebody aircraft has disappeared, and airlines worldwide are retiring their A340 fleets, which have become increasingly uneconomic to operate.
“The 787-9 will provide Air Tahiti Nui with superior performance, range capabilities and economics, while its passengers will enjoy the Dreamliner’s unique features such as higher humidity, lower cabin altitude and the largest windows of any current commercial airplane, providing a commanding view of the horizon above beautiful Tahiti throughout the airplane,” Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president of Asia Pacific and India Sales at Boeing Commercial Airplanes said. “Boeing is honored to start this new partnership with Air Tahiti Nui.”
Air Tahiti Nui’s A340-300 fleet is outfitted in a 2013-era two-class configuration with 32 angled lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration in its Poerava business class, plus 264 economy seats pitched at 32” in the standard 2-4-2 A340 layout.
The airline hasn’t released details of its 787-9 interiors, stating only that “Air Tahiti Nui and Boeing plan to formalise the order during the coming months”, but a likely configuration given Air Tahiti Nui’s market positioning is similar to Chilean airline LAN’s 787-9.
LAN — which incidentally is also replacing the A340-300s it uses on Australasian flights with the 787-9 — fits 30 fully flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration and 283 economy seats in the high-density Dreamliner 3-3-3 layout that all 787 operators apart from Japan Airlines have chosen.
Air Tahiti Nui chairman Michel Monvoisin appeared to flag an increase in capacity in his comments following his airline’s agreement with Boeing: “We are very excited to partner with Boeing to deliver the very latest innovations in comfort and technology to our global customers. The new fleet investment will help future-proof travel to and from The Islands of Tahiti, and assist the acceleration in visitor growth.”
In business class, Air Tahiti Nui could follow the trend of airlines that previously operated angled lie-flat seats choosing space-efficient fully flat beds like the B/E Diamond (seen on, among others, United’s 787-9 services) or, in a relatively uncompetitive market focussed almost entirely on leisure passengers, it could follow fellow Pacific stalwart Hawaiian Airlines and select a higher density premium product rather than one at the vanguard of business class seats.
Yet with Air France’s Boeing 777-200ER (competing from Papeete to LA and Paris) replacing its angled lie-flat seats with Zodiac Cirrus reverse herringbone fully flat beds with direct aisle access, and Air New Zealand’s Boeing 767-300ER with relatively cramped recliners due to be succeeded by the Kiwi carrier’s newer Business Premier equipped widebodies on Auckland services, Air Tahiti Nui would be at a passenger experience disadvantage without a top-flight seat.
Now that would be trouble in paradise.