Sasha Wood

Aircalin is infusing its fleet with cabin concepts inspired by the tropical islands it calls home. Sasha Wood discovers how

A boutique airline from a far-flung archipelago in the South Pacific, Aircalin is a little carrier with big ideas. Not only is it adding new custom jets to its fleet, it’s adding a new Premium Economy cabin, upgrading its Business seats and refitting all cabins with state-of-the-art facilities.

It’s a mammoth undertaking, especially as it has chosen to fully customise the fleet with everything from the livery to the salt and pepper shakers tailored to reflect its New Caledonia base.

Class act

Based out of capital Noumea on the main island of Grande Terre, Aircalin operates 22 weekly flights across the region including to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Tahiti.

Its fleet of narrow-body jets and short-hop twin otters is being renewed with two new A330-900neos being added this year, followed by two new A320-200neos in 2020 and 2021, offering the perfect opportunity for change.

In the revamped Economy, passengers will find high-density comfort foam seats that recline by up to six inches, surrounded with soft blue hues inspired by Noumea’s lagoon. In Business there’s a new-generation seat, The Opal by Stelia Aerospace, created by Airbus’ chief designer Bruno Saint Jalmes, renowned for his on-trend designs. Aircalin will be only the second airline to instal the seats, which convert to a fully-flat bed, offer direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 seat configuration, and privacy.

Pacific patterns

Dubbed Business Hibiscus, after the scarlet flower that is the airline’s tropical emblem, the natural theme extends to the private shell-shaped pods. Fresh features include a personal seat-side ‘cocktail zone’ shelf, in addition to the extendable table. New bedding includes a bigger, plumper pillow and a snug duvet.

Expert inflight product designers were selected to create cabins that reflect the palette and patterns of New Caledonia’s tropical undersea world, exotic flora and Melanesian heritage. To ensure the refresh was on-brand and came together seamlessly, it was developed in collaboration with Airbus designer Pascale De Resseguier and local communications agency White Rabbit, which originally created the airline’s hibiscus insignia and branding.

It chose to work with inflight products specialist Global-C to create bespoke items for the cabin refresh including chinaware, a jute napkin band and table linen for Business, plus glassware, cutlery and snack bags for Premium Economy and refreshed Economy.

A perfect fit for Aircalin, rather than create generic products, Global-C was keen to incorporate the airline’s cultural background, traditions and service design into the pieces. This is perhaps most apparent in the quirky cruet set designed in the shape of the tribal totems that usually feature in the doorframes of traditional Melanesian huts.

Global-C’s director for Pacific and South Asia, Anu Khosla, explains: “Boutique airlines like Aircalin are usually forced to compromise and select off-the-shelf products because suppliers in our industry demand high minimum order quantities for custom-made product. Thankfully we have access to manufacturing partners who are able to accommodate lower volume production runs, to support custom designs.”

From plates and cutlery to pillows and headrests, the new interiors are invigorated with the opal, turquoise and emerald hues of Noumea’s lagoon, with fabric and plate designs featuring wave and palm leaf insignias, and borrow from the natural patterns of brain corals, gorgonians and sea fans found in the region’s sub-aquatic gardens. “The decorations feature Kanak waves, cultural motifs and masks in elegant tones of beige, perfectly complementing the warm white chinaware,” says Khosla.

Going green

With an eye to the airline’s environmental commitments, Global-C also produced compostable bio-plastic cutlery made from plants and wrapped in PLA biodegradable film for Economy and proposed a natural jute napkin band. Snack and duty-free bags are made of recyclable kraft paper with cotton handles.