Air Tungaru, a Government owned company, started domestic flight operations in 1977 but closed down in 1994 due to financial problems. Air Kiribati Ltd (AKL), also a fully-owned Government company, took over the operations in 1995 primarily to provide domestic air services in Kiribati.
The airline’s colourful history started with a "de Havilland Heron" aircraft and expatriate pilots, mostly from Fiji. Later the Heron aircraft was replaced by a British-made "Islander" and then a "Trislander". When the production of the Trislanders stopped, a CASA aircraft was bought from Spain in 1979. This proved quite popular in Kiribati given its bigger load capacity but it became unreliable due to regular break down of its electronic components with spare-parts that were expensive and difficult to obtain.
In 1995, a Y-12 plane was bought from Harbin in China. This is a smaller and lighter plane and is relatively easy to maintain compared to the CASA. The latest CASA (second-hand) was bought in 2001 from the US following the decommissioning of the first CASA in 2000.