The Ministry of Transport plans to build Long Thanh into a transit airport to compete with the other regional airports. However, it has been warned that the plan is unfeasible.
The State Appraisal Council last week gave the go-ahead to Aviation Corporation of Vietnam’s (ACV) to allow the investor to submit the Long Thanh Airport development project to the government, which would report about the project to the National Assembly’s upcoming session, slated for May.
Nevertheless, three questions about the project remain unanswered. First, how will it take for Long Thanh to be developed into an international transit airport?
Second, why has the investor decided to develop only one airstrip in the first phase of the project with capacity of 17 million passengers per annum, instead of two as initially planned?
Third, how will the investor arrange the funding for the huge project?
At to the first question, Le Trong Sanh, former Head of the Tan Son Nhat Airport’s Management Division, believes that Long Thanh cannot become a transit airport, because the two existing airports in Thailand and Singapore have been serving as transit points in the region already.
Meanwhile, since the airports of Can Tho, Phu Quoc and Cam Ranh have been upgraded into international airports, many flights to these destinations will head directly for them rather than transit in Long Thanh.
Sanh assumes that the German air carrier Lufthansa had to stop flying to Tan Son Nhat Airport after 23 years of service between Germany and Vietnam because of the low numbers of transit passengers.
Dr Nguyen Thien Tong from the HCM City University of Technology also remains skeptical about the plan to turn Long Thanh into a transit point, saying that the developer could not show convincing evidence to prove the feasibility of the plan. Tong said that air carriers see HCM City as a destination, not a transit point. He also affirmed that Lufthansa has stopped flying to Tan Son Nhat Airport because of the modest number of transit passengers.
“The investor needs to clarify what would make Long Thanh attractive enough to lure air carriers to transit here,” he commented.
Doubts have also been raised about the investor’s decision to build one runway instead of two. Sanh thinks that the investor has tried to do this to narrow the scope of the project, which would make ratification by the National Assembly more likely.
Tong warned that the number of passengers passing through Long Thanh Airport may not reach 17 million per annum. The figures released by the General Statistics Office revealed that the number of air passengers increased significantly in 2012 and 2013, but most of them were domestic ones. Meanwhile, Long Thanh in the future would focus on serving international passengers.
Tong has advised the investor to calculate the number of passengers flying into Tan Son Nhat Airport as a final destination point versus those using it as a transit point. The figure is important and needs to be made public, because it can indicate whether building Long Thanh is really warranted at this time.