The Ministry of Transport (MOT) has proposed reopening nine routine international air routes in mid-December.

Due to high travel demand during New Year and Tet holidays, as well as from foreigners who want to enter Vietnam to work, invest and travel, the ministry has adjusted the plan on resuming routine international flights.

If the Government gives the go-ahead to the proposal, the reopening of international flights will be half a month earlier (from mid-December instead of the first quarter 2022), and the plan on receiving foreign travelers will be implemented in two phases instead of three as initially planned.

After considering the proposals by many experts and discussing with ministries, MOT has proposed the removal of the requirement on mandatory 7-day concentrated quarantine on fully vaccinated and recovered (from Covid) passengers. They would just need to show negative testing results.

Reopening international air routes means opening doors more widely to foreign travelers. At present, foreign travelers can fly to Vietnam on chartered flights only, so the number is small.

Tran Du Lich, an economist, pointed out that if Vietnam continues to accept chartered flights only, there will be no need to discuss tourism reopening.

He stressed that if Vietnam wants to reopen to recover tourism, it should not be afraid of resuming commercial flights, and if the fear still exists, it would be better not to discuss the reopening.

“I think we don’t have much time and we should hurry to do the reopening in three sections – accommodations, travel and air transport - to serve demand during Tet holiday,” Lich said.

Agreeing with Lich, Saigontourist CEO Nguyen Huu Y Yen said that if commercial air routes reopen, travel firms will ‘revive’, helping other industries develop.

In pre- and post-Tet days, Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) are the clients that ‘feed’ domestic tourism. Viet Kieu want to return to their homeland to celebrate Tet, but there are few flights and the costs are high.

Passengers either have to pay a lot for air tickets, or have to go ‘roundabout’ by flying to Cambodia before taking a bus to the border gate to enter Vietnam.

Vietnam Airlines’ Chair Dang Ngoc Hoa stressed that if Vietnam is slow in reopening, it will lose its competitiveness not only in the eyes of tourists but investors as well. If so, airlines and tourism firms will find it difficult to recover after the pandemic.

Hoa said because of the fourth pandemic wave, from May to November 2021, the number of international travelers was only 1 percent of 2019.

Be cautious but not afraid

Though routine international air routes have not reopened yet, Vietnam’s air carriers still have succeeded in opening non-stop air routes.

Vietnam Airlines recently kicked off its non-stop San Francisco – HCM City air route. It plans to provide seven flights a week and is considering opening new routes, including one from Hanoi/HCM City to Los Angeles.

The market, with 1.4 million passengers in 2019 and an average annual growth rate of 8 percent in 2017-2019, is also a target for Bamboo Airways. After the first non-stop flight on September 23, the airline is following procedures to be able to provide routine flights to the US.

Prior to that, the airline announced a non-stop route between Vietnam and the UK would start at year end. At first, there will be six return flights a week, and then raised to one flight a day.

Meanwhile, Vietjet Air plans to open three non-stop routes to Russia, beginning in July 2022.

Since July 2021, some international flights to Japan and South Korea have been provided by Vietnam Airlines, but the number of flights is small and they can only take off with approval from authorities.

Though MOT has designed a plan on resuming international air routes, reopening will heavily depend on pandemic developments. Because of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, a number of countries have closed their borders to flights and prohibited entries from people in certain African countries.

The increase in number of Covid cases in many localities in Vietnam may also lead to tightening of anti-pandemic measures, including restriction of flights and imposition of stricter requirements on passengers.

However, CAAV (Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam) Deputy Head Vo Huy Cuong said the agency is still making hectic preparations to reopen international air routes as soon as possible, after the Ministry of Health (MOH) releases regulations on quarantine, and after negotiations with other countries, excluding the 10 African countries (Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola and Zambia), wrap up.

Dr Do Van Dung from HCM City University of Medicine and Pharmacy said the Omicron variant spreads rapidly but there is no change with diagnosis and testing methods (rapid and PCR testing) and it appears not to cause severe illness.

He said Vietnam needs to be cautious but not panic. Tourism and aviation may be delayed by this variant, but Vietnam should not miss opportunities. 

To control the pandemic, according to experts, it’s necessary to test all domestic passengers. As the testing cost is high, passengers on some domestic air routes are not required to be tested. This may lead to high risks and cost a lot of money to trace positive Covid cases.

MOH has set a testing fee framework and the VND109,000 fee is considered to be within domestic passengers’ payment capability.

Experts have suggested that MOH immediately require testing before flights so as to ensure a safe environment, warning that it will be costly and complicated dealing with positive Covid cases at airports or on aircraft.

Ngoc Ha

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