Air Transport World

Lifeline to paradise: Air Tahiti Nui fulfills its mission to ensure a steady stream of tourism vital to the local economy.(Profile)(Company Profile)

As the trend toward consolidation in the airline industry gathers momentum with the Air France/KLM merger, the experience of French Polynesia helps to explain why smaller states may be reluctant to surrender a role in the provision of air services.

For decades, French Polynesia relied on airlines such as Air France, AOM, Qantas and Air New Zealand to fly in the tourists critical to the economy of the 118 islands and atolls that make up this South Pacific paradise. However, the inability to control seat numbers, particularly on flights from Paris via Los Angeles, was impacting investment in tourist infrastructure, with tourism stagnant at just 180,000 visitors a year. The other problem for Tahiti was that airlines were more interested in end-to-end traffic such as Paris-Australia via Los Angeles.

The situation prompted the government to participate in the launch in 1998 of a new international airline, with the government taking 39% and private investors 61%. In explaining the decision to local media at the time, President Gaston Flosse described a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma: "The airlines that served Tahiti said they couldn't increase frequencies because either they believed there was no market or there were not enough hotel rooms. …

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