Vietnamese carriers restart direct US flight race

By Dat Nguyen   March 30, 2021 | 04:30 pm PT
Vietnamese carriers restart direct US flight race
An aircraft of Vietnam Airlines seen at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. Photo by Shutterstock/Benson Truong.
Bamboo Airways and Vietnam Airlines are locked in a race to become the first Vietnamese carrier to establish a direct route to the U.S.

The race has been re-triggered by the large demand for such flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trinh Van Quyet, chairman of Bamboo Airways, said that the global vaccination campaign will help create a boom in the aviation industry by the end of this year. This is why the airline wants to fly directly to the U.S. in the last quarter of this year, he said.

He had earlier announced a plan to make Bamboo Airways the first Vietnamese carrier to conduct regular direct flights to the U.S. However, it failed to meet its own deadline last year.

The board of directors of flag carrier Vietnam Airlines has also approved a plan to launch direct flights to the U.S. early next year, saying it was the right time to do it.

Since May last year, the airline has conducted 12 repatriation flights from the U.S. It has used up the number of repatriation flights allowed by U.S. authorities and is now seeking permission for regular flights.

Such flights will help utilize its wide-body fleet, which has been in low demand due to the pandemic.

Vietnam has considered regular direct flights to the U.S. since 2003, but profitability concerns have made carriers hesitant.

Vietnam Airlines leaders have said earlier that low demand and fierce competition could lead to annual losses of $30 million in the first five years.

American carriers have faced the challenges that Vietnamese carriers face now, and stopped direct flights between the two countries long ago. United Airlines launched a direct service in 2007 but pulled the plug on it in 2012, while Delta Air Lines flew its direct service for a mere six months in 2008. No American carrier has launched a direct flight since.

The market entrance of Bamboo Airways in 2019 stirred up the race again, with its leadership expressing confidence that it was possible to make a profit with direct flights to the U.S.

Bamboo Airways chairman Quyet had calculated that the airline could earn VND8 billion ($346,700) a month from direct flights with a return ticket price of $1,300.

Without the direct flights, people have to transit in East Asia while traveling between Vietnam and the U.S., and the journey can take 18-21 hours. A direct flight would shorten the travel time to 15-17 hours.

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