Thursday,  Oct 18, 2018,23:36 (GMT+7) 0 0
Thanh Hoa told to rethink civil airport project
By Lan Binh - The Saigon Times Daily
Thursday,  Sep 22, 2011,20:06 (GMT+7)

Thanh Hoa told to rethink civil airport project

By Lan Binh - The Saigon Times Daily

HANOI, HCMC - Thanh Hoa authorities have to think of the reality and viability of using available facilities at a military airport for civil purposes before the province thinks about building a new airport at an estimated cost of over VND2.6 trillion.

Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang has told the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) to work with Thanh Hoa over a survey on air travel to and from the province and the possibility of using the current military airport Sao Vang for civil services.

The Ministry of Transport echoed Thang’s clear message after his working trip to Thanh Hoa late last month. Thang insisted the survey focus on both short- and long-term demand for transporting passengers and cargo from the province in the north of central Vietnam.

The survey would serve as a basis for the ministry to seek the Prime Minister’s approval for Thanh Hoa’s proposal to allow commercial aircraft to fly to Sao Vang Airport, the ministry said.

The military airport is 45 kilometers west of Thanh Hoa City while the planned new airport is 30 kilometers south of the city. The different sites of these two airports mean there has been change to the province’s airport development, which it expected to create a push to socio-economic development there.  

Earlier this year, Thanh Hoa and CAAV announced a plan for a civil airport in Tinh Gia District. This project in Hai Ninh Commune will require more than VND2.6 trillion (US$124.5 million), including around VND800 billion for the first phase planned until 2020.

The two-phase project will serve flights for tourism, aid for victims of natural disasters, and mining exploration among others before 2020. The airport in first phase will handle flights from Thanh Hoa to Cat Bi, Danang and Tan Son Nhat airports with 250,000 passengers and 10,000 tons of cargo a year.

The airport is expected to receive one million passengers and 20,000 tons of cargo each year after 2020, when there would be more domestic flights to Buon Ma Thuot, Dalat and Nha Trang as well as some international flights.

Experts have questioned the feasibility of the new airport project, saying its location is 120 kilometers from the Vinh Airport and that many other airports in central Vietnam and other regions have yet to use up their designed handling capacity.

For instance, Vinh Airport currently serves less than 10 daily flights operated by Vietnam Airlines and Vietnam’s low-cost carrier Jetstar Pacific. This is below its capacity as it can still accommodate more flights during the high season in summer and on holidays including Lunar New Year (Tet).

Northern Airports Corp. claimed losses for most of the airports under its management at a meeting with minister Thang in Hanoi last week, saying that it had to use the profit earned from Noi Bai International Airport to finance operations of Dong Hoi, Vinh, Cat Bi and Na San airports.

Dong Hoi is a point in case as the airport in the central province of Quang Binh encountered accumulated losses of VND58 billion (around US$2.77 million) in the first two years in existence since 2008. This airport now receives seven weekly flights by Vietnam Airlines.

Vietnam now has four operational domestic airlines, Vietnam Airlines and its subsidiary Vietnam Air Service Co. (Vasco), Jetstar Pacific and Air Mekong, but not all these airlines fly to the some 20 airports in operation. Many airports now handle the flights conducted by either the national flagship carrier or Vasco or both such as Can Tho and Ca Mau in the Mekong Delta; Cam Ranh, Chu Lai and Dong Hoi in central Vietnam; Dien Bien in the north.

Jetstar Pacific and Air Mekong or each offer domestic flights covering the airports with stable demand for air travel, including Tan Son Nhat, Noi Bai, Vinh, Haiphong, Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot, Phu Quoc, Quy Nhon, and Pleiku. But not all airports exploited by these two carriers are profitable.  

The loss-making situation is also reported for the international airports except Tan Son Nhat, Noi Bai and probably Danang. Can Tho; Phu Bai, Cam Ranh and Chu Lai airports have been able to attract only inbound chartered flights besides domestic services though they were granted an international status years ago. 

CAAV’s figures showed the number of passengers going through the operational airports in Vietnam last year rose by 20% year-on-year to exceed 21 million. Tan Son Nhat, Noi Bai and Danang handled 85-90% and the rest was shared by the 17 airports.

The imbalance in performance occurs at the airports under the helm of Southern Airports Corp., namely Tan Son Nhat, Can Tho, Con Dao, Ca Mau, Rach Gia, Phu Quoc, Lien Khuong and Buon Ma Thuot. The corporation said Tan Son Nhat handled up to 15 million out of the 16.5 million passengers going through all these airports in 2010. 

An Giang and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces are among the localities that want a new airport though they are not far from Can Tho and Tan Son Nhat airports respectively. In July this year, CAAV publicized the zoning plan for a VND3.42-trillion airport on 235 hectares in An Giang and Ba Ria-Vung Tau has got the ministry’s support for a new location of Vung Tau Airport with a 2,000-meter-long runway in Go Gang in Long Son Commune.

Experts have warned the under-performance and losses of many airports should be a lesson for those localities that assume an airport would help quickly lift their socio-economic development.

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