Fate of golf course next to Saigon airport hangs in the balance

By Vo Van Thanh - Hoang Thuy   June 13, 2017 | 01:14 am PT
The government has halted all construction activities at the controversial course, which many experts say shouldn't have existed.

Vietnam’s government has ordered all construction work at a golf course next to Tan Son Nhat airport to be halted, amid a heated debate about its location and whether the land should be handed over to the congested airport.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at a cabinet meeting on Monday suspended all projects at the golf course, including a new training facility, villas and apartments.

Phuc asked the transport ministry to hire an independent foreign consultant to devise a plan for the long-awaited expansion of Tan Son Nhat, the country's largest airport that is serving 30 percent more passengers than its capacity.

The move came amid an unusually intense debate centering on questions that should have been raised years ago: why the city has a golf course right next to its airport, and whether the land should be given to the airport.

The golf course at Tan Son Nhat Airport was approved in 2007 and has been in use since 2015. It covers over 157 hectares (390 acres) of military land.

For years, the $100 million course has always been a controversial matter. Late last month, some lawmakers questioned its existence again, arguing that the space could be better used by the airport.

The 574-hectare Tan Son Nhat is receiving 32 million passengers a year, far beyond its designed capacity of 25 million. Its two runways were several times reduced to one because of flooding or lightning strike. Its parking space for 57 aircraft sometimes has to handle more than 70 planes at a time.

The defense ministry last February freed up 21 hectares of its land to the expansion of the airport, three years after it gave eight hectares.

The Airport Design and Construction Consultancy, owned by the defense ministry, has proposed several options for the expansion.

It said the airport’s capacity could be increased to 45 million passengers a year with a VND19 trillion ($837 million) expansion. Work could be completed in three years and the ministry would not have to relinquish more land.

In another scenario, the golf course and more land would be transfered to the airport for a much more ambitious upgrade, which the company said could require VND200 trillion and more than 15 years. It said that 140,000 families would have to be relocated.

Several media reports, citing experts, have argued that taking over the golf course is an economical and feasible option for the airport expansion, without the headaches linked to land clearance.

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