Vietnam aviation faces safety rating challenge

By Doan Loan   February 17, 2019 | 05:00 am PT
Vietnam aviation faces safety rating challenge
An aircraft flies over corn farm while landing at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Vietnam might find it difficult to maintain its aviation safety rating due to a lack of qualified personnel, experts caution.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Friday gave Vietnam a Category 1 safety rating, allowing local airlines to operate direct flights to the U.S.

"Acquiring this rating is hard, keeping it is going to be even harder," Dinh Viet Thang, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), told VnExpress.

He said that the CAAV currently has only 30 aviation safety officers, meeting only 30 percent of the demand. They hire the rest from other airlines.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has required that the CAAV has enough aviation safety officers on its own in upcoming years so that it doesn’t need to hire people from outside, and CAAV plans to meet this goal by 2025.

However, training these officers is costly, with an individual bill costing over VND5 billion ($216,000).

One of the biggest hiring difficulties is that aviation safety officers are attracted by the higher salaries offered by airlines compared to state-owned companies, Thang said.

An aviation safety officer at CAAV earns only VND10 million ($432) a month, while local airlines pay them about VND300 million ($12,960).

"The government gives us VND20-30 billion ($864,000-1.29 million) each year to hire aviation safety officers and VND10 billion ($432,000) to train new ones, but we really need more investment from the government to develop this team," he noted.

Another challenge is meeting FAA safety requirements as they conduct unannounced safety examinations. If Vietnam doesn’t meet these requirements, FAA will downgrade the rating to Category 2, meaning no direct flight to the U.S. is allowed.

This has happened before in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and most recently India, he said.

Local airlines, including state-owned Vietnam Airlines, budget airline Vietjet and new private airline Bamboo Airways, have previously expressed interest in operating direct flights to the U.S.

Vietnam’s aviation industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. There were 12.5 million air passengers last year, up 14.4 percent from 2017.

The number of flights in the country grew by 16 percent on average between 2010 and 2017, according to official data.

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