The shortest scheduled air route in the world flown by an ATR aircraft is just 18 kilometres long. It is operated by Air Tahiti with a 66-seat ATR 72-500 between the Pacific islands of Tahiti and Moorea in French Polynesia, and is not much longer than the distance from the capital, Papeete, to Tahiti’s Faa’a Airport to catch the flight.

The longest scheduled route flown by any ATR airliner is 1650 kilometres, a journey which typically takes 3 hours 40 minutes to complete. Again the operator is Air Tahiti, and again with an ATR 72-500, this time between Papeete and remote Gambier Island. That’s roughly the same distance as Sydney – Auckland or Paris – Stockholm.

Now, Air Tahiti has achieved yet another milestone for ATR, becoming the first airline in the world to order both versions of the new ATR “series 600” family of turboprop airliners, with orders for two 70-seat ATR 72-600s and three 48-seat ATR 42-600s.

Air Tahiti currently operates a fleet including seven ATR 72-500s and three ATR 42-500s across a diverse network spanning the islands of French Polynesia.

Maté Galenon, Managing Director of Air Tahiti, said: “For more than 20 years, ATR aircraft have proven to be the right choice for our interisland operations. The high commonality between the ATR 42s and ATR 72s represents a clear advantage for us, as it allows us to operate our fleet optimally to some forty destinations, while minimising our operating costs.

“We have a total confidence in the ATR aircraft family and we are very proud of further developing our partnership with the introduction of the first ATR 42-600s and ATR 72-600s that will fly in the Pacific region. These aircraft, because of their very low fuel consumption, will enable us to enhance our operational capabilities, while reducing our environmental footprint, which is a major value in Polynesia.”

The new ATR 72-600 and 42-600 aircraft are due to enter the Air Tahiti fleet during 2012 and 2013, making both French Polynesia and the Pacific islands region among the first in the world to experience both members of the ATR series 600 family.

“The prototypes of both of these ATR models are still undergoing pre-launch flight testing in Europe, prior to certification later this year and entry into commercial service by early 2011,” said Guillaume Huertas, ATR Sales Director Australia and South Pacific.

“It is a great endorsement for our aircraft that Air Tahiti is not only a launch customer for our newest family of aircraft, but also that it is acquiring both versions of the series 600,” said Mr Huertas.

The newest ATR aircraft offer significant efficiency improvements over all current turboprop models from all manufacturers.

With all-new, more fuel-efficient Pratt and Whitney PW 127M engines, the ATR series 600 aircraft offer operators the option of greater payload or longer flight range, as well as much better operating performance to and from so-called “hot and high” destinations, where climate can play havoc with operating economics. In the case of Air Tahiti, the new ATR 72-600 will be configured to seat 70 passengers – four more people or one more seat row than its current ATR 72-500s, which accommodate 66.

As well, the new “glass cockpit” avionics suite on the ATR series 600 integrates the latest computer systems and flight software for navigation, flight data recording, communications and automatic piloting, adding further to the ATR legacy for reliability in this region, as well as improving operating efficiencies.

But perhaps the greatest benefit for Air Tahiti of the new ATR series 600 family will be its versatility, enabling the carrier to continue operating in environments ranging from the full length international runway at Faa’a Airport to a wide range of much shorter airstrips on numerous distant islands, many of which would not be able to accommodate jets.

As well, the ATR aircraft family has “ETOPS 120” certification, enabling Air Tahiti to perform extended range operations over water. At this level of approval, aircraft are permitted to fly within 120 minutes of a suitable landing field throughout their journeys, enabling operators to fly the most direct route, instead of zig-zagging between closer alternate runways. ATR is the only turboprop manufacturer currently able to provide ETOPS 120 certification, making it perfect for the missions required by Air Tahiti.

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