FAA Gives Nod to Vietnam Aviation Authorities for Direct Flights to US
• Vietnam has been granted a Category 1 Rating
• Vietnam was recently named “Asia’s Leading Destination”
• Vietnam-US direct flights could cost Vietnam Airlines up to US$30 million yearly
In anticipation of the US-North Korea Summit taking place in Hanoi at the end of February, it appears as if the universe has tried to make Donald Trump’s trip a bit easier by approving direct flights from the US to Vietnam.
In a statement released on 14 February 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration—FAA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)—announced an Aviation Safety Rating for Vietnam which rates the Vietnamese Civil Aviation Authority as meeting the FAA’s international safety standards. Perhaps as a Valentine’s nod to Vietnamese-American couples and lovers, the Valentine’s Day announcement granted a Category 1 rating under the agency’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.
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This rating means that the Vietnamese Civil Aviation Authority has met the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards for licensing and is based on an FAA assessment conducted in August 2018. According to the FAA’s press release, the ICAO is the United Nations’ “technical agency for aviation that establishes standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance”.
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Although flights between Vietnam and the US have sold for as low as $515, no direct flights have taken place between both countries in recent history and the FAA had not previously assessed Vietnam’s civil aviation authority for compliance with ICAO standards. The move could represent yet another stepping stone for Vietnam to join the world stage in the tourism industry.
Last year, Vietnam was named “Asia’s Leading Destination” at the 2018 World Travel Awards in Hong Kong. Likewise, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) representatives attended the 39th International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Spain in January. Vietnam’s Deputy Transportation Minister Nguyen Ngoc Dong was enthusiastic about the news when he told Reuters on Friday that the rating was a “recognition by a very developed aviation authority which requires a very high standard of safety and security”.
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According to Tuoitre.vn, Vietnamese government data shows that Vietnam’s rapidly growing aviation market saw an increase of 16 percent on average yearly from 2010 to 2017. VNExpress reports an 11.9 percent growth in the number of travellers visiting Vietnam from the U.S. in 2018. That’s 687,000 people; a figure attributed to Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
According to Brendan Sobie, a Singapore-based analyst at the CAPA Centre for Aviation, international seat demand in Vietnam is increasing, with an estimated 20% growth annually in the last three years. According to various news sources, several Vietnamese airlines—including Bamboo Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, and Vietjet—have expressed interest in establishing direct flights between both countries.
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Even so, the excitement about the news is not uniform. Tuioitre.vn also reported that, according to Duong Tri Thanh, general director of Vietnam Airlines, the Vietnam-US route could cost the airline a projected yearly loss of US$30 million. Sobie seems to agree. He recently told Bloomberg that “it’s very hard to make that route profitable. It’s a license to lose money”.
Whether or not airlines are prepared to take on the new baggage, so to speak, only time will tell what margin of profit Vietnam’s aviation giants will take. What is clear is that direct flights are sure to be a convenience to travellers from both countries, cementing a cross-cultural dynamic that continues to develop between both nations. Likewise, it will continue to facilitate travel for scores of people of Vietnamese origin living in the US—over 1.8 million according to the 2010 census.
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