Flying in Polynesia

A unique network and its consequences


Uncommon runways

The Polynesian network is somehow atypical.
Its 48 airstrips have varying characteristics which affect the choice of aircraft and the permitted payload (limited seats on sale).
Other aspects are to be taken into account such as the length and the width of the runways, the obstacles, the safety and aeronautics materials…
Some runways are not equipped with lights, 12 out of 48 only are equipped, and therefore the time of sunset is a very important criterion to establish the flight schedule.
Air Tahiti is assisted by one of it subsidiaries "Air Archipels" to allow flight connections with the most remote islands.
Air Tahiti is operating international flights between Tahiti and Rarotonga since April 2007.

ETOPS certification

The uncommon network operated by Air Tahiti has allowed the company to obtain the ETOPS certification. Air Tahiti was the 1st company to obtain this certification on ATR 72. 
As a safety measure, aircraft flying over water must never be more than a certain distance away from an alternate aerodrome. In view of this constraint, some flights cannot follow a linear route, but instead proceed in a broken line.
Air Tahiti is not concerned with this restriction as ETOPS (Extended Twin Operations) has been approved on many aircraft thus allowing us to minimise the flight duration and maximise payload as well as including an island to the list of routes permitted.
Without this certification, our ATR-72 couldn't flight between Tahiti and Nuku Hiva.

> Read the article in the Air Tahiti Magazine on the particularities of operating an air service in the islands of French Polynesia.


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.

Safety first

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":

Tuamotu Archipelago:

  • Apataki
  • Fakahina
  • Fangatau
  • Nukutavake
  • Puka Puka
  • Pukarua
  • Reao
  • Tatakoto
  • Tureia
  • Vahitahi

Marquesas Islands:

  • Ua Huka
  • Ua Pou

> Read the article in the Air Tahiti Magazine on the service to Polynesia's most remote islands.

Travel tips

Click on the links below to make sure your trip goes smoothly: