The first commercial flight from HCM City to the West Coast of the US is scheduled to take off on November 28, 2021. Vietnam Airlines’ CEO Le Hong Ha talks about the opening of the special air route.
Vietnam Airlines’ CEO Le Hong Ha
Vietnam Airlines has become the first carrier in Vietnam to open a non-stop air route to the US, which has special significance. Could you please tell us about the preparation period?
It was an enduring and difficult path. In the aviation industry, the air routes with longer distances have bigger challenges.
In 2001, Vietnam Airlines set up its representative office in San Francisco, even before Vietnam and the US signed the Air Transport Agreement, which showed the importance of the US market to Vietnam’s national flag carrier.
However, the air route to the US sets the most stringent requirements on technical safety and aviation security in the world, while the competition among airlines is very stiff. That is why in Vietnam’s aviation history, there has never been a route that has required as much time and effort to plan.
Airlines have had to follow a “forest” of procedures to obtain the license to fly to the US. At first, the US Federal Aviation Adminmistration (FAA) assesses the capability of the national aviation authority.
After many assessment campaigns, Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) obtained a CAT1 certificate from FAA in February 2019.
After that, airlines obtained assessments from nine US agencies. To date, Vietnam Airlines is the first and only air carrier licensed to provide non-stop routine flights to the US.
Why has Vietnam Airlines decided to fly to the US at this moment?
The Covid-19 pandemic is an important factor that has prompted Vietnam Airlines to begin flying non-stop to the US this year end. Falling into crisis, air carriers all over the globe have to adapt to new circumstances, including Vietnam Airlines.
There are always opportunities in danger, and the opportunity we see is realizing the plan to fly non-stop to the US.
The international market has declined over the last two years. It’s difficult to lease and sell wide-body aircraft. The biggest asset of a carrier is the fleet. Meanwhile, if we continue “on the ground” we won’t have cash flow. Therefore, we need to seek every opportunity to take off.
We can see that there is demand from the Vietnamese community in the US to fly to Vietnam, while the investment and trade activities between the two countries are increasing, which leads to higher travel demand from businesspeople. Notably, the cargo transport market between Vietnam and the US keeps growing, and has not decreased during Covid-19.
Therefore, we believe that opening the air route will help us get more revenue and ease financial losses caused by the workforce redundancy, and it will help set a bridge for trade exchange between the two countries.
Moreover, providing two flights a week will give an impetus for Vietnam Airlines to develop rapidly once the market fully recovers after the pandemic.
How about profits and losses? How do you position Vietnam Airlines’ products on the air route?
It’s difficult to predict the breakeven point, because the flow of passengers has not returned as before the pandemic. But our calculations show that the route from HCM City to San Francisco would be effective in variable costs right from the first year.
Vietnam Airlines has outstanding advantages on inter-continental air routes it operates. The advantages will be further promoted when passengers, during the pandemic, will not have to contact others at transit points or stay at hotels to wait for connecting flights.
Flights take off in the US at the end of the day, so after a night on an aircraft people will be full of energy to welcome a new day on the other side of the hemisphere.
The flights from HCM City take off in late afternoon and passengers arrive in the US at around 7.30 pm.
The flights will last 14 hours, much shorter than the ones which take 20-30 hours with one stopover currently being provided by international flights.
As the only Vietnam airline that flies non-stop to the US, we expect to attract passengers with high payment capability, including businesspeople and passengers on business who want to save time.
What would you say about the importance of the non-stop air route between Vietnam and the US?
Put yourself in the shoes of a Vietnamese who lives far away from the homeland. They will surely overflow with warmth when they can return to Vietnam on a Vietnamese aircraft, enjoy Vietnamese food and speak Vietnamese.
Despite the Covid-19 crisis, Bamboo Airways and Vietnam Airlines have announced plans to fly non-stop to the US by the end of this year.
National flag carrier Vietnam Airlines on November 16 officially received a permit from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate non-stop commercial flight service between Vietnam and the US.