Vietnam takes steps to fly direct to United States

Monday, 2019-02-18 10:32:36
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Vietnamese carriers can now establish service to the United States.
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NDO - Vietnam has been granted a Category 1 rating by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), meaning that the country complies with international safety standards and its air carriers can now establish direct service to the US.

The Category 1 status is based on an August 2018 FAA assessment of the safety oversight provided by Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said the US Embassy in Vietnam, adding that the Category 1 determination is a substantial achievement.

Arduous efforts

Category 1 is an aviation safety rating of the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme and is a requirement for all countries with air carriers wanting to fly direct to the US.

Aware of the importance of the US market, Vietnam began working to achieve the Category 1 rating in 2012. But it was not a simple task. CAA Director Dinh Viet Thang said that the FAA conducted its first technical assessment in 2013 and found 49 problems, more than half of which are technical, including an incomplete aviation policy.

After several years of addressing these problems, the FAA conducted an official inspection of Vietnam’s aviation authority in 2018 and highly appreciated Vietnam’s remarkable progresses in complying with Category 1’s standards. In this inspection, four areas received the FAA’s good evaluation, namely the legal document system, standards, management instruments and civil aviation organisation.

The FAA found 14 problems, but they are individual and not systematic problems. It is noted that among these 14 problems, the only difficult one to correct concerned supervising the safety of seaplanes. With a great deal of efforts, two CAA pilots were trained by Canadian experts in two months and succeeded in being certified for seaplane supervision. To date, Vietnam has completed dealing with all the problems highlighted after the CAA’s official inspection. On February 15, US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel J. Kritenbrink awarded the Category 1 aviation safety rating to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.

Potential yet fierce

According to experts, about 30,000 Vietnamese students travelling to the United States and millions of overseas Vietnamese frequenting between the two countries each year, and a thriving bilateral trade relationship, the US is a potential but also very competitive market.

In the past US air carriers such as United Airlines and Delta Airlines already operated flights to Vietnam but then terminated such flights because of inefficiency.

Vietnam Airlines CEO Duong Tri Thanh also noted that it could take the carrier 5-10 years to reach the break-even point with this route. There could be losses exceeding US$30 million for the early years of operating this route.

Although the door is already open for Vietnamese air carriers, they still have to deal with one problem, that is aircraft requires longer range than current ones.

The US market is highly competitive, so market development, cooperation and code-sharing plans also need to be given careful consideration by Vietnamese carriers. In addition, Vietnamese airlines need to thoroughly understand US laws in order to avoid needless costs when flying to this market.

According to Thanh, who has been pursuing the dream flying direct to the US, commercial feasibility depends on the technical capabilities of aircraft.

For now, Vietnam possesses no airplanes capable of flying non-stop to the US. If one stop is added, the costs and flying time will be much higher, making the route less competitive. Thanh said that in the time ahead, he will discuss the issue with aircraft manufacturers. Such aircraft will not be available until at least 2022 so Vietnam Airlines’ plan for now is to continue expanding transit and codeshare flights with US airlines.

Besides Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air and Bamboo Airways have also included flights to the US in their development plans. Vietjet CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao said that the carrier is taking steps to hire wide-body aircrafts for direct flights to the US. The budget carrier is expected to begin operating the first direct flight to California in late 2019 or early 2020.

There are always opportunities alongside challenges. Routes between Vietnam and the US with one stop are already crowded with many international airlines and there are few opportunities for Vietnamese carriers. Flying directly from Vietnam to the US is an entirely new market and it will be a great opportunity for Vietnamese carriers if they can take advantage of it.