Air Tahiti Nui’s Plan For World’s Longest Flight Was A “Translation Error”

Filed Under: Air Tahiti Nui

I’m not really sure what to make of this.

About a week ago I wrote about how Air Tahiti Nui’s CEO claimed in an interview that the airline was considering launching a nonstop flight between Tahiti and Paris. Understandably Paris to Tahiti is a big market, given that Tahiti is a French territory, making it a popular vacation destination.

The airline already flies from Tahiti to Paris via Los Angeles, but that’s rather inconvenient, since passengers have to clear immigration in the US.

The major issue with a nonstop flight  from Paris to Tahiti is that it would cover a distance of 9,765 miles. That’s about 750 miles longer than the world’s current longest 787-9 route (Perth to London), and about 250 miles longer than the world’s current longest flight (Singapore to Newark), which is operated by an A350-900ULR.

The 787-9 wouldn’t be capable of operating this route without a serious weight restriction, which would no doubt make the route unsustainable (and arguably it’s not economical to begin with).

I noted my confusion in the previous post, as I said:

I can’t imagine Air Tahiti Nui spent nearly a billion dollars on a type of plane specifically because of the range it offers, only to find out the plane can’t actually operate the route.

So, what exactly happened here? RNZ quotes an Air Tahiti Nui spokesperson as saying that Air Tahiti Nui doesn’t actually plan on flying the route, and that this was due to a “translation error.”

Alright, usually I’d say that’s a possibility, but let’s look at the excerpt from the Airways interview:

Did you ever consider other aircraft? Say, the Airbus A350?

MONVOISIN: Of course we did. When we launched the fleet renewal campaign, we asked both Boeing and Airbus to study all the possible routes we could open within the next 20 years.

We wouldn’t want to change these planes five years after we got them just because they wouldn’t meet our needs, right?

So when you look at Tahiti, in the middle of the Pacific, what kind of routes can you open?

They’re all long haul. That’s a fact.

And for ultra-long-haul, what we needed is range. And the best range comes with the Boeing 787-9.

This plane would allow us to fly nonstop from Tahiti to Paris. We would beat the current Singapore – Newark flight in terms of time and distance. We are really thinking about it. The Los Angeles stop is not really that confortable for our French passengers.

Call me crazy, but unless those quotes were completely fabricated, it sure doesn’t seem to me like there was any translation error here. This wasn’t a one sentence comment, but rather the CEO went on and on, and there’s consistency between sentences and the messaging.

So as expected, Air Tahiti Nui won’t launch nonstop flights from Tahiti to Paris. What remains a mystery is whether this was actually a “translation error,” or if Air Tahiti Nui bought a billion dollars worth of planes without looking at a range chart.

What do you think — was this a translation error, or is Air Tahiti Nui’s management that clueless?

  1. It could very well be a translation error. Sometimes non-stop is incorrectly translated in English to concepts like permanent, regular, or 24/7.

  2. @ Lingua — But if that’s the case, what was the CEO suggesting? The “non-stop” part may have been a translation error, but the needing the 787-9 over the A350 for the range, etc.?

  3. While it’s possible to imagine “direct” being translated to non-stop, or something similar, it’s not really possible to imagine that “We would beat the current Singapore – Newark flight in terms of time and distance.” could have been similarly mis-translated.

  4. @Lucky – it could be what Lingua said. Perhaps he only saw that one sentance mistranslated and then spoke the rest based on that. Just a possibility.

  5. @ W — Sorry, you’re saying who spoke the rest based on that? The entire thing is supposedly a direct quote from the CEO.

  6. I think there’s an IF missing there, in their prospection and discussions with plane makers. The translation is probably look something like:

    “And for ultra-long-haul, what we needed is range. And the best range comes with the Boeing 787-9.

    *If* this plane *allowed* us to fly nonstop from Tahiti to Paris. We would beat the current Singapore – Newark flight in terms of time and distance. We are really thinking about it. The Los Angeles stop is not really that confortable for our French passengers.”

    (The fact that they kept the French spelling of comfortable is quite telling as to the performance of the translator 😉 )

  7. Whatever it is, even the bog standard a350 wouldn’t make that distance too. Only an unsustainable 350 ULR with SQs config can it do that distance, which is askingbfor trouble in such a leisure market.

  8. There’s far too much context around the phrase for it to be a translation error.

    It’s a simple as they’re lying

  9. Without publishing the actual statement of the CEO (in French) it’s stupid to ask if we think this is a translation error! In fact, the author of this article has no business even writing an article about a possible translation error if he does not speak both languages! Being bilingual myself, let me tell you that I have encountered some utterly baffling translation errors. So, yes, in the absence of the original statement in French, _anything_ in that English version could be a translation error. The *only* thing we know is that we are not reading the actual words of the CEO because it’s a translation.

  10. I’m confused. He says “this plane would allow us” and “we would beat”. Nowhere do I read that he says there ARE flying it. It sounds all hypothetical. I’m really confused about everyone’s interpretation of the English language here. And to top it off he says “we are really thinking about it”. Since when does thinking about something mean that you are exclaiming that you are definitively going to do that thing. I could care less about the subject matter but really want to bash my head against the wall that you don’t understand the difference between words

  11. Maybe they were duped by Boeing? Maybe a clueless intern at Boeing told them the 787-9 could make the route and of course they just went with it.

  12. Clearly Air Tahiti Nui needs the LA feed which must justify the headache of US Customs for the one-stop French passengers. Else why not make a quick stop somewhere like Martinique?

  13. Was the original interview done in French? This sounds like the original interview was done in English. But the CEO is probably not a native speaker of English. So what he means by “translation error” is that he said the wrong thing, in a language he may or may not be very good at speaking. Things do get “lost in translation”. Give him a break.

  14. LAX is quite convenient since it’s directly on the flight path between PPT and CDG. The only non-US major airport also under the flight path is Winnipeg in Canada. Zero detour like LAX. Could be interesting. It’s -31C in Winnipeg at the moment and precisely 31 in PPT. The contrats would be fun.

  15. This highlights the stupidity of forcing passengers only transiting thru the US to go through full immigration. Didn’t usetabe till Dubya and his waronterrer. Air NZ passengers from AKL to London flocked to the newer service via Hong Kong when that was available so biz class had at least the chance to get to a lounge during the relatively short layover. Sadly that HKG thru service ended. Unless I actually want to visit the US, I skip it entirely. Thank you Emirates.

  16. Air Tahiti Nui confirmed the order for two 787-9s in Spring 2015; Airbus finally launched the A350-900ULR for SQ in the Fall of 2015. So technically, at the time when the order was placed, the A350-900 wouldn’t be able to make Paris to Tahiti non-stop; however, the A350-900 base model still has longer range than 787-9. The CEO was wrong on the range comment. Now, the 787-9 is a bit smaller than the A350-900, and then there’s the negotiated price that we don’t know. Regardless, the CEO comment is very confusing.

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