Three drainage projects set to fix Saigon airport flooding

By Gia Minh   April 3, 2021 | 05:00 pm PT
Though Tan Son Nhat International Airport has for years suffered from flooding, initiatives aimed at addressing its plight have commenced at snail pace.

Surrounding the airport, the biggest in Vietnam and located in Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Binh District, are three canals meant to drain rainwater during the April to November wet season in southern Vietnam.

Called Hy Vong, A41 and Nhat Ban, the three canals have been seriously congested with garbage over the years.

However, upgrade projects have been delayed for years, threatening aircraft safety with the frequent flooding of runways and taxiways.

Hy Vong Canal serves the entire western and northern sections of the airport and a nearby residential area covering 51 hectares (126 acres). From here, drained water typically runs to Tham Luong – Ben Cat Canal and then the Saigon River.

The Hy Vong Canal in HCMCs Tan Binh District fills up with garbage, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Hy Vong Canal in Tan Binh District is filled up with garbage, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

In 2013, a plan was approved to upgrade Hy Vong Canal. Back then, it formed part of a master plan called HCMC Regional Flood Risk Management invested by the local Urban Flood Control Steering Center using World Bank (WB) loans.

Yet the WB stopped providing loans in 2017 and the canal upgrade has been put on hold ever since, awaiting new sources of funding. Later, the project was handed over to Urban Infrastructure Construction Investment Projects Management Unit under the municipal Transport Department.

Earlier this week, the unit stated in a report to the department that work to upgrade Hy Vong would cost VND1.98 trillion ($85.6 million), almost four times the amount estimated last year, with completion delayed by three years to 2025.

The additional investment is due to the higher cost of site clearance and compensating affected households. That sum was originally estimated at more than VND287 billion, with recent calculations raising the sum to over VND1.595 trillion to clear a total area of 21,200 square meters.

The project would upgrade a section of more than 1.1 kilometers along Hy Vong Canal, establish 55 drains to collect water, and build nine sluices and culverts. Along the two banks, the project would erect two six-meter wide roads with sidewalks and drainage systems aside from lighting and railings.

Once completed, the renovation work is expected to not just increase drainage capacity but also contribute to ensuring airport safety and improving environmental protection. The two roads built along the canal would also help people travel more conveniently and increase the value of land in the area.

On the southern side of the airport, around half of its aprons and the entire area A41 Factory managed by the military drain water via A41, currently facing the same plight as Hy Vong.

HCMC had already approved a project to upgrade A41 years ago. As planned, it would cost VND560 billion in total in two stages from 2016-2018 and 2017-2019 and comprise an upgrade of a two-kilometer section of the canal, build a sewer system and roads alongside both two banks.

The A41 Canal in March, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

The A41 Canal in March, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

With Tan Son Nhat airport expanded to have one more terminal by 2023, the role of the A41 canal is even more crucial.

However, obstacles in the process of site clearance have caused the project to be delayed.

For now, as investor, the Tan Binh District administration, said it is "pushing progress" to complete site clearance as soon as possible so work could start later this year for completion within the next.

Nhat Ban Canal comprises two branches to prevent flooding along the airport’s eastern edge, draining water toward the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal.

In 2016, one of its branches was upgraded at the cost of around VND100 billion, saving part of the parking lot, a runway and a nearby residential area from flooding.

A plan moves along a flooded runway in Tan Son Nhat airport in 2015. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

A plane moves along a flooded runway in Tan Son Nhat airport in 2015. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran.

Tan Son Nhat is a frequent victim of flooding. In 2015, heavy rains flooded several parts of the airport, with water rising to as high as 20 centimeters, threatening to compromise the airport's power generators, and prompting employees to barricade the area with sand bags.

The airport served 38.4 million passengers in 2018 and 40.6 million in 2019 compared to its designed capacity of 28 million per year. Due to Covid-19, the figure dropped to 22 million last year.

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