How strategy helped Bamboo Airways soar: CEO

By Van Pham    March 18, 2021 | 05:00 am PT
While domestic airlines suffered heavy losses due to the Covid-19 storm, Bamboo Airways made an impressive comeback with a pre-tax profit of VND400 billion ($17.4 million).

Dang Tat Thang, standing vice president and CEO of Bamboo Airways, shared the story behind the success of Bamboo Airways in 2020.

- Airlines went through a challenging year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with many huge losses reported. What about Bamboo Airways?

The year 2020 was arduous not only for aviation but also the economy. Amid challenges, we still saw an opportunity. By the end of 2020, Bamboo had more than 30 aircraft and added a new Embraer 195 line, filling unexploited routes to destinations that lack small aircraft, like Hanoi, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao or Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City to Rach Gia, hereby exploiting Hanoi - Ca Mau, Nha Trang - Da Nang...

Bamboo Airways's signature 5-star flight - resort - golf packages have also been extensively marketed, combined with FLC Group's ecosystem, continuing to affirm our pioneering position in this sector. After the recent Lunar New Year, our fly-resort-to-Quy Nhon combo series was launched and immediately sold out.

Not only developing its fleet size, Bamboo has also invested tremendously in plans to upgrade its existing fleet of which the recent purchase of advanced backup engine LEAP-1A from manufacturer CFM International was a part.

Certainly, during this era, only a few airlines in the world could still both increase their flight network, aircraft fleet and market share while still ensuring safety and on-time performance like Bamboo Airways.

The company aims to upgrade service quality toward a 5-star rating. Photo by Bamboo Airways.

The company aims to upgrade service quality toward a 5-star rating. Photo by Bamboo Airways.

- What is the reason behind the success of Bamboo Airways?

I think the first success of Bamboo entailed its leadership promptly making appropriate decisions from the beginning of the year, such as stopping international flights even before being requested by the government and an early focus on domestic resources.

When I went to the U.S. to receive Boeing 787-9, from Los Angeles to Charleston, I transited twice by Embraer aircraft. The comfort and soothing experience this aircraft offered immediately impressed me. And as soon as I landed, I called a deputy general director and asked if Embraer 195 could fly to Con Dao? He said yes, then we urgently planned, and within a few months officially launched direct routes to Con Dao.

During the pandemic, increasing flight routes proved to be the right decision. When the market recovers, we will already have a well-rounded system to serve the needs of our customers. Bamboo's goal is that from 2021, in the long term, from any two provinces in Vietnam, our routes would be connected, in order for citizens to benefit and the economy to develop. The fleet will increase to at least 50 aircraft by the end of 2021.

- What is Bamboo Airways's domestic market share?

- In 2019, Bamboo occupied a nearly 10 percent market share. By the end of 2020, that number had doubled, to nearly 20 percent. This year we target an increase of 30 percent.

In aviation, the numbers are updated every day, every week from the airports, aviation administration. There was a week that the number of Bamboo Airways flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City was the highest among airlines. This can be verified by data.

At the moment, Bamboo's number of routes opening ticket sales is at the top of the list.

- Bamboo aims for a 5-star airline rating, which no Vietnamese airline has so far achieved. How close are you to this goal?

Regarding service, you see a significant number of praise from passengers flying Bamboo. The company's orientation is to upgrade service quality toward a 5-star rating. With regards to flight networks, three years ago, when Bamboo entered operation, we operated only 10-20 routes, gradually increased to 57.

Simply put, many people like to fly Bamboo because of our punctuality, modern planes, wide network of routes, affordable prices, good service, and friendly staff.

One of the major goals of Bamboo in 2021 is to become a 5-star airline according to international standards. In the near future, Bamboo will sign an official cooperation agreement with a reputable consultant from the U.K. to plan a specific strategy towards the goal of becoming a 5-star airline by 2022-2023. This unit used to support other major 5-star airlines in the world like Emirates, Qatar, Etihad...

In terms of speed, Bamboo has its own way of marking our work, unlike other airlines. Similar to before, when we were about to enter operation, many people were skeptical of how we could launch flights that early in the process.

Bamboo has continued to prove it can overcome many difficulties, such as becoming the first private airline to put into operation a wide-body aircraft, being the most punctual airline in Vietnam, the first airline to open six direct flights to Con Dao, the first private airline to launch a Business Lounge at key airports, and being among a handful of Vietnamese airlines that received an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) by International Air Transport Association's (IATA), etc.

The IATA vice chairman himself visited to issue us the certification and commented that rarely did any airline in the world achieved IOSA certification like Bamboo after only a year of operation.

Bamboo Airways fleet will increase to at least 50 aircraft by the end of 2021. Photo by Bamboo Airways

Bamboo Airways' fleet will increase to at least 50 aircraft by the end of 2021. Photo by Bamboo Airways

- What are Bamboo Airways's goals for 2021?

Bamboo Airways still has its growth target. 2021 will offer many opportunities, as long with more challenges. With the availability of vaccines in the world and Vietnam, IATA estimates the international aviation market would recover slightly in the second and third quarters. Bamboo's two major goals are to occupy 30 percent of the domestic market share and become a 5-star airline.

The third is to become the leading digitalized airline in the region and the world. We were born in the period of rapid technological development, and are able to refer to the experience of successful operations in the industry to timely and promptly improve and upgrade technology in the company's operation.

Bamboo Airways is expected to digitize both its internal and passenger systems. In other words, in a single one-stop Bamboo application, customers can buy flight tickets, vacations, edit information, schedules, etc.

On the other hand, Bamboo Airways employees and leaders need only a Bamboo Portal to handle all tasks, minimize time and heavy paperwork, improve labor efficiency, etc.

Fourth, Bamboo will continue to offer many of the latest, convenient and flexible products; extensive flight - vacation combos in cooperation with major resort partners outside FLC, increasing brand coverage to the whole nation, etc.

Moreover, we are focusing on the domestic market, but have never stopped preparing resources for international flights. Direct flights to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are set to commence as early as the second quarter of 2021, if allowed by the government.

Preparations for direct flights to Australia and China, Germany, the Czech Republic, America, and so on are also underway. As you can see, in 2020, a big aim for Bamboo was to be licensed to transport passengers and goods to and from the U.S.

- At the end of 2020, the aviation market welcomed a rookie, Vietravel Airlines. What do you think about the competition?

They are definitely welcome. Not only Vietravel, we also want to see more new airlines to expand the market.

For example, Thailand has a smaller population than Vietnam, but its number of regular airlines is thrice ours. They have 13 regular airlines and 10 chartered airlines while we currently have three main airlines, and Vietravel making it four.

The more airlines there are, the more market competition would boost growth, making it outstanding.

When Bamboo first entered the market, we not only created a new wave of services but also brought onto the scene a new definition of working procedures and safety standards for Vietnamese aviation, in general.

When Bamboo made its first step in the market, people could clearly see the overall quality of customer care services had been marginally increased. Fair competitive and customer-oriented market is conducive to development.

At Bamboo Airways, I affirm there will never be a case of ‘bribing’ a few thousand dollars to get into the pilot's payroll. All processes are completely transparent and principled.

Our number of pilots by the end of 2020 was nearly 350, an increase of more than 20 percent compared to 2019. Bamboo is also implementing a pilot training program, planning to be 10-percent self-sufficient within 2021.

We are very proud that the airline grew rapidly, even during the pandemic. Our number of flights increased by 40 percent, but did not allow any safety threats, with on-time performance reaching 97 percent.

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