Air Kiribati’s first E190-E2 takes-off from São José dos Campos, Brazil. (Photo: Air Kiribati)

Air Kiribati Receives its First ‘Game Changer’ E190-E2

An aircraft delivery this past week represented a landmark for Kiribati’s state-owned flag carrier Air Kiribati. The airline received its first Embraer E190-E2 of an order of two and two further purchase rights. The aircraft, it is said, can strongly help the economic development of the isolated country.

The aircraft is configured for 92 passengers in a dual-class configuration, with 12 business class seats and 80 seats in economy class, and according to the Fiji Sun, a news outlet from Fiji, the aircraft were financed with the help of the Chinese government.

Air Kiribati’s first E190-E2 taxies in São José dos Campos, Brazil. (Photo: Air Kiribati)

The delivery comes about three months after a shift on Kiribati’s diplomatic policy. The country started recognizing the “One China Policy” and cut ties with Taiwan — the non-UN state accused Kiribati of “requesting ‘massive financial assistance from Taiwan to purchase commercial airplanes,’ reports The Guardian.

The financing of the aircraft by China, it can hence be implied, came with this diplomatic change of direction.

A small event was conducted in Embraer’s factory at São José dos Campos, Brazil, celebrating the new delivery with the presence of airline executives and government officials, including Kiribati’s Minister of Information, Communication, Transport and Tourism Development, Willie Tokataake.

Invited executives and government officials celebrate the delivery of Air Kiribati’s first E190-E2. (Photo: Air Kiribati)

Tokataake stated that “the arrival of our first jet today is the culmination of three years of vision, strategic thought, government focus, research, evaluation, hard work, commitment, partnership and a good measure of problem solving.”

Although the routes have not been yet announced, Pionair, the Australian ACMI operator which will jointly operate the E190-E2 for Air Kiribati, requested flights connecting Brisbane, Australia, to Tarawa, with stops in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and in Nauru, reported Australian travel blog Points From The Pacific in September 2019.

“Aviation is critical for any island nation and Kiribati is no exception”, affirmed Tokataake in a press release. The second least-visited nation in the world, according to CNN Travel, Kiribati is unexplored much to its isolation. The only international flights to its capital, Tarawa, connect the country to other island countries — Fiji, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

International flights out of Tarawa (Kiribati) as of January 2020. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado, created with Great Circle Mapper)

Given Kiribati’s long distance from the Pacific hubs, the choice for the E190-E2 was made because of the extended range of the aircraft, that can reach large cities such as Auckland and Brisbane non-stop with a full payload, says another report by the Fiji Sun.

Being an island country vastly spread out in the Pacific, even inter-island operations are a challenge in Kiribati. Currently, the only way to get to the Easternmost island of Christmas (Kiritimati) is by stopping in Nadi (Fiji). The Embraer will be able to connect these two islands non-stop.

The focus for the two Embraers, then, will be to connect Kiribati to “the regional hubs in and around the Pacific,” approximating the remote country to the outside world. As Air Kiribati’s acting CEO Danial Rochford stated to the newspaper, “I certainly believe these aircraft will certainly see a major boom in tourism in Kiribati, which is already seeing some upswing in growth.”

João Machado
João Machado
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