Does Viet Nam need more airports? The debate continues

Monday, Oct 26, 2020 08:30

T2 terminal of Noi Bai International Airport in Ha Noi. — Photo

The Government Office has asked the Ministry of Transport to consider a proposal by Ninh Thuan Province to use a military airport also for commercial purposes.

Thanh Son Airport, also called Phan Rang Air Base and eight kilometers north-west of Phan Rang-Thap Cham City, now uses one only of its two runways, which can accommodate narrow-body aircraft like the Airbus A321.

Besides, the airport can meet flight safety standards and is capable of handling flights to and from Ha Noi, HCM City and Da Nang.

Ninh Thuan authorities pointed out that the province has in recent years become a renewable energy hotspot and is likely to receive 2.5 million visitors a year, including many foreign experts working on power plants.

Many other provinces in the country have made similar demands in recent years to use military airports for civilian purposes or build new airports.

In September Ha Tinh had asked that the national airport network plan for 2021-30 should include one to be in the northern province.

Another northern province, Lao Cai, asked to build a US$246 million airport near Sapa town, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Viet Nam.

Ha Noi is readying an application for a second international airport.

According to the Airports Corporation of Viet Nam (ACV), the country now has 22 airports, nine of them international.

Its density of one airport every 16,000km is comparable with that of other countries in the region.

According to the Prime Minister’s Decision No 326/QD-TTg issued in February 2019, by 2030 there will be 28 airports, including 13 international.

The northern region will have 10 airports, five international (Noi Bai, Van Don, Cat Bi, Tho Xuan, and Vinh) and domestic (Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Sa Pa, Na San, and Dong Hoi) each.

The central region will have seven, three international (Phu Bai, Da Nang, and Cam Ranh) and four domestic (Quang Tri, Pleiku, Phu Cat, and Tuy Hoa) each.

There will be 10 airports in the southern region, four of them international (Tan Son Nhat, Can Tho, Phu Quoc, Long Thanh) and the other six domestic (Buon Ma Thuot, Lien Khuong, Phan Thiet, Con Dao, Rach Gia, and Ca Mau).

By 2030 there will be 280 million passengers and 6.8 million tonnes of cargo transported by air annually against a designed capacity of 308 million passengers and 7.5 million tonnes of cargo.

An aviation training systemto be set up is expected to meet the country’s training needs. Establishing and developing an aviation technology application, development and research center is also a part of the decision.

By 2030 aircraft parts and aviation equipment are expected to be designed and fabricated in the country.

But the question is whether Viet Nam needs so many airports.

And, opinion is divided on this.

For …..

The provinces asking for new airports or conversion of military facilities have said this would help overhaul the country’s aviation infrastructure, which is rather poor and acts as a drag on socio-economic development, especially tourism.

Some 80 per cent of foreign tourists come to Viet Nam by air but air connectivity to many localities is still very poor, causing visitors to waste time on travel.

The lack of airports, especially the big ones, has caused an overloading of existing ones in recent years.

In 2018, for instance, they served 105 million passengers whereas their combined designed capacity was only 75 million.

One of the biggest airports, HCM City’s Tan Son Nhat, had to handle 36 million passengers last year while its capacity is 25 million. It has been suffering from a severe overload for years now.

Development of more airports at localities that are important destinations is imperative for their development and that of the country, they said.

Dr Bui Doan Ne, general secretary of the Viet Nam Aviation Association, agreed with the provinces saying that with its 100 million population Viet Nam has very great travel demand and it is increasing quickly, especially with the country deeply integrating into the global economy.

The existing airport network is possibly not enough, and planning for its expansion should be done early to help the aviation industry develop methodically, he said.

The development of airports would have a beneficial knock-on effect on other economic sectors too, he said.


Many aviation experts disagree with the provinces’ plans to build new airports.

They warned the country would have too many airports if their proposals are approved and only six out of the 22 operational airports were profitable until last year. Airport construction is an expensive business, something that many of the provinces could not afford yet, they pointed out.

The only profitable airports as of last year were Noi Bai in Ha Noi, Tan Son Nhat in HCM City, Da Nang, Cam Ranh in Khanh Hoa Province, Lien Khuong in Lam Dong Province, and Phu Bai in Thua Thien-Hue Province.

Dr Nguyen Thien Tong, former head of the HCMC Polytechnic University’s aviation technology faculty, said the provinces do not see the big picture and only think about local needs.

He pointed to the example of Quang Tri Airport.

It is proposed to be built in Gio Linh District, just 93km from Dong Hoi Airport in neighbouring Quang Binh province and 88km from Phu Bai, meaning it is not strictly needed, he said.

Ha Noi should not build another airport for at least 30 years, he said.

Others agreed, suggesting provinces should focus on building small airports with short airways for small aircraft with less than 20 seats to serve special needs such as medical airlift, defence and security and tourism.

Dinh Viet Thang, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Viet Nam (CAAV), said in an interview to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that detail airport planning of provinces must be made in accordance to the national airport network planning approved by the Prime Minister in Decision No 236.

The CAAV is drafting an airport master plan for 2021-30 with a vision to 2050 which would ensure that airports are allocated logically and meet the air transport demand of localities and the nation overall, he said. VNS

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