Air Tahiti Nui’s 787 Dreamliners Return To New Zealand

Air Tahiti Nui is resuming flights to New Zealand. But there is a catch – these flights will only carry cargo. However, there’s room for passengers on the flights, and Air Tahiti Nui is hopeful this will happen reasonably soon. For the time being, weekly cargo flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will begin on June 10.

Air Tahiti Nui will offer a weekly cargo service to New Zealand from June 10. Photo: Air Tahiti Nui

“The announcement is a lifeline to the airline’s New Zealand operations as well as New Zealand trade,” says Air Tahiti Nui’s General Manager Pacific Daniel Eggenberger. “The much-publicized disruption to the domestic supply chain can in part be attributed to the depletion of air cargo services connecting key markets, and we are very pleased to now be in a position to assist this.”

Weekly flights see Air Tahiti Nui planes back at Auckland Airport

Across the southern hemisphere winter season, Air Tahiti Nui’s cargo flights to Auckland will depart Papeete on Wednesday morning for the five-hour plus flight.  That flight will cross the International Date Line, meaning the Dreamliner will touch down in Auckland on Thursday morning.

Two hours later, the Air Tahiti Nui service will depart Auckland Airport at lunchtime and head back to Papeete. Owing to the magic of the dateline, the plane will land in Papeete on Wednesday evening – 18 odd hours before the plane departed Auckland.

Until the travel downturn, Air Tahiti Nui had flown to New Zealand for two decades. New Zealand’s biggest airport, Auckland, served as a handy hub for flights into Polynesia and French Polynesia.

Since 2018, Air Tahiti Nui had flown its swish Dreamliners between its Papeete base and Auckland three times a week. But since March 2020, the airline has operated a total of four flights to New Zealand.

An Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in Papeete. Photo: Air Tahiti Nui

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New Zealand freight scheme underwrites Air Tahiti Nui flights

French Polynesia remains off-limits to New Zealanders. Exemptions may apply for repatriation, family, or medical evacuation reasons. But with French Polynesia opening up to tourists from the United States and Air Tahiti Nui stepping up its services into Los Angeles, the welcome mat may soon be laid out for New Zealanders as well.

Supporting Air Tahiti Nui’s return to New Zealand is that country’s International Air Freight Capacity (IAFC) scheme. The IAFC was set up at the start of the travel downturn to maintain freight links in and out of New Zealand. Most airline cargo is carried in the cargo holds of passenger flights. But with borders closing and passenger demand in free-fall, airlines slashed services into New Zealand.

The IAFC subsidies airlines to maintain essential cargo services into New Zealand. The scheme has the dual role of getting imports into New Zealand and getting exports out. Air Tahiti Nui recently won a New Zealand Government contract to provide these new cargo flights with subsidies still on offer.

Air Tahiti Nui is keen to resume flying passengers to and from New Zealand. Photo: Air Tahiti Nui

Chickens and other livestock get a nice ride

With Air Tahiti Nui flying to Los Angeles and about to resume services to Europe, the airline wants to use Papeete as a transit point for onward cargo. Air Tahiti Nui’s Dreamliners can carry more than 24 tonnes of cargo. Daniel Eggenberger says 60% of that is onward cargo.

New Zealand’s export market into Europe and the United States is worth billions of dollars annually. Air Tahiti Nui says they will be flying mostly meat, meat products, dairy, fruit, flowers, and air-freighted livestock, especially poultry. The airline’s Dreamliners will make a better than average traveling coop for your run-of-the-mill chicken.

Mr Eggenberger says the opening of air freight services marks a significant development in the resumption of operations from New Zealand. He hopes his planes out of New Zealand will be carrying people as well as assorted livestock soon.