Landing in the wrong place
For a capital-intensive industry like aviation, any major changes at the expense of air carriers will be costly and thus require thorough calculations and a long-term vision. A random suggestion by the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) that all air carriers should map out plans to park their planes at Can Tho airport overnight to ease the overload at HCMC’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport has therefore backfired, as seen in local media these days.
In an announcement posted on its website last Friday, CAAV says it has written to Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jetstar Pacific and Vasco asking these local airlines to weigh parking their airplanes overnight at Can Tho airport.
“CAAV demands that Vietnamese airlines make studies, build specific plans for parking airplanes overnight at Can Tho International Airport. Such plans must be reported to CAAV prior to January 30, 2017,” Giao duc Viet Nam newspaper reports, quoting the CAAV announcement. The key reason behind the suggestion, according to CAAV, is that Tan Son Nhat with 57 plane parking slots has become full, while the number of airplanes using the airport as their hub has gone beyond the capacity there.
Air carriers have been quick to point out that the suggestion is impractical, since the key principle for aviation is that airplanes must fly with passenger load, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. To ensure economic efficiency, airlines will only park their planes in those airports with a substantial number of passengers so that their first flights of the day can be arranged with passenger loads while the number of passengers to and from Can Tho airport is quite insignificant, the newspaper reports, citing airlines.
Air carriers say that the average cost of flying a jetliner is some VND200 million an hour, in addition to costs for dispatching technical staff and maintenance workers to Can Tho, and covering accommodation for air crew members.
Thanh Nien newspaper agrees to the point, saying it is a big waste of time and money if airlines are forced to park planes in Can Tho. As long as carriers have not used Can Tho as one of their hubs, it is unthinkable for them to park planes there, the newspaper notes, citing an airline representative. “The flying cost aside, carriers will have to bear the accommodation cost for crew members and airplane maintenance staff,” says the paper, adding only major airports like Tan Son Nhat, Noi Bai and Danang have sufficient conditions to become hubs for airlines.
Nguyen Bach Phuc, chairman of the HCMC Consultancy Association for Science-Technology and Management, asserts in Giao duc Viet Nam that the instruction from CAAV – meant as a solution to overload at Tan Son Nhat airport – would fail to address the problem on one hand and disturb the market on the other. If airlines are forced to adhere to CAAV’s instruction, they would have to raise fares to cover extra costs, he remarks.
Meanwhile, Tran Dinh Ba, an independent expert on aviation, says in the newspaper that he is stunned by the groundless CAAV suggestion.
“I am utterly surprised and disappointed at the way aviation leaders are thinking when urging airlines to park planes in Can Tho. This shows their weak capacity, without proper knowledge about the aviation industry,” he stresses.
In Ba’s opinions, the runways at Tan Son Nhat have become overloaded, so if empty flights are arranged back and forth between the two airports, the overload situation at Tan Son Nhat would only get worse as the number of aircraft movements would multiply.
Pham Sanh, another transport expert, says in Thanh Nien that the CAAV suggestion can only apply for the case of runway overload, not parking overload. No airports in the world have ever resorted to such a measure, he notes.
The best solution to the overload at Tan Son Nhat, according to experts, is to quickly expand the parking space there besides upgrading relevant facilities, a job that has been neglected for long.
Tuoi Tre, citing experts, says it is urgent to start work on an airplane parking project that can accommodate an additional 37 planes at a time, since an area of 21 hectares has been handed over by the Ministry of Defense to the airport management. “This area is already cleared and can be developed right away, but relevant parties have been discussing the projects on and off without starting construction work,” says the paper.
In a latest move on the issue, Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung at a teleconference on December 29 said that the Prime Minister would have a final say on December 30 on the expansion of Tan Son Nhat airport, with an aim to add more parking slots and build two more passenger terminals, according to Tuoi Tre.
Such a move by the Government - if actualized as revealed by Deputy PM Trinh Dinh Dung – will put the CAAV scheme in an offside position. However, even in the absence of such a move by the Government, the CAAV scheme can still be likened to landing in the wrong place.