A unique network and its consequences
In order to be permitted to take off and land, an aircraft must not exceed a certain weight, known in aviation as payload.
The payload is calculated before each flight, and every kilogram is taken into account. It depends on the type of aircraft used for the flight, the runways, the fuel required for the journey, the number and average weight of the passengers and their baggage*, the equipment needed for the in-flight service, etc.
For two-thirds of Air Tahiti flights, factors specific to Polynesia, such as runway length, also restrict the payload. Such flights are termed "restricted" flights. In such cases, the airline is not permitted to sell all of the aircraft's available seats. This is why, when you board a flight announced as full, you will sometimes be surprised to notice empty seats.
*To gauge the average weight of passengers and their baggage, Air Tahiti, under the auspices of the civil aviation department, conducts a weighing campaign every five years.
The State Civil Aviation Department is responsible for ensuring compliance with civil aviation regulations in Polynesia.
The maintenance of Air Tahiti group aircraft is carried out at the Air Tahiti Engineering Centre, for ATRs, and at the Air Archipels Engineering Centre, for Twin Otters and Beechcrafts. The two centres are approved by the relevant authorities. The maintenance programme is based on a cycle of:
- 400 flight hours for ATRs
- 125 flight hours for Twin Otters
- 200 flight hours for Beechcrafts
The two engineering centres have a stock of replacement parts, while repairs of reparable parts are mostly carried out in Europe and the USA.
Air Tahiti's commitment to improving access to the remote islands
A private Polynesian company, Air Tahiti nevertheless has a public service role, operating a network of scheduled flights to a dozen remote islands with small numbers of inhabitants.
Air travel is today an indispensable mode of transport, and in French Polynesia its importance is even greater, with 118 islands scattered across 5.5 million square kilometres, an area the size of Europe. This makes the aeroplane not just another means of transport, but a vital link. It is key to providing better access to the islands, especially the most remote ones.
This "developing islands network" is structurally in deficit, which means that, even if it operated at full capacity, it would continue to make a loss.
It is mostly operated by Twin Otters or Beechcrafts, but flights to some islands can now be made in ATRs.
Journeys are often made in two stages: an initial flight in an ATR from Tahiti to an intermediate island (such as Hao, Makemo, Rangiroa or Nuku Hiva), where passengers transfer to a connecting flight in a Beechcraft or Twin Otter.
Islands covered by the "developing islands network":
- Puka Puka
- Ua Huka
- Ua Pou