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Simulations find cross-Indochina route not time- or fuel-saving: Vietnam carrier

Simulations find cross-Indochina route not time- or fuel-saving: Vietnam carrier

Wednesday, September 03, 2014, 15:33 GMT+7

A new air route between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that would take flights through the airspace of Laos and Cambodia to help local airlines save fuel and time, has in fact proved more fuel-hungry through flight simulations conducted by VietJet Air, the no-frills carrier said Tuesday.

VietJet Air and national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines had simulated flying on the controversial air route using flight simulator systems over the weekend, following an order from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), and finished testing on Tuesday.

A VietJet Air spokesperson told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Tuesday night that results from the Airbus A320 simulator on the cross-Indochina air route show that it uses more fuel than the current one.

Vietnamese airlines currently fly between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on a ‘roundabout’ route that spans a sea area between the capital and Da Nang in the central region, and crosses over the mainland between Da Nang and the southern city.

“The Lao aviation watchdog did not allow Vietnamese airlines to fly at a high altitude, which cost the plane an additional one ton of fuel,” the company representative said.

He added that the air route would only cut the flying time between Vietnam’s southern hub and the capital city by one minute, compared to the current service, because “it took the plane seven minutes to turn around at each terminal.”

Also on Tuesday, Vietnam Airlines general director Pham Ngoc Minh told Tuoi Tre that the company carried out a simulation for an Airbus A320 at its flight training center in Ho Chi Minh City, and for a Boeing B777 in Singapore.

As scheduled, both Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air have to submit reports on their simulations to the CAAV by Wednesday.

Vietnam Airlines cautious

Dubbed the ‘golden air route,’ the controversial air route was proposed by Mai Trong Tuan, a retired pilot based in Ho Chi Minh City, in March 2009.

In February 2012, Dr. Tran Dinh Ba, from the Vietnam Economic Association, also suggested replacing current air routes with more direct paths that cross Cambodia and Laos, which he said would help save fuel and increase profits for airlines.

According to Ba, it would cost Vietnam Airlines only $3 million to invest in the new air routes, while the national carrier could save 65,000 tons of fuel and 12,000 flying hours every year.

Vietnam would also rake in an additional $120 million thanks to the new routes, while the profits for Laos and Cambodia would be $25 million each, coming from airspace usage fees.

While both Ba and Tuan were greeted with waves of objections from aviation experts, their propositions were viewed as “good ideas” by the Vietnamese transport ministry and the CAAV. The routes had previously been discussed among the Indochinese countries back in the 1980s.

The national air carrier, meanwhile, remains cautious over the new air route, even after completing the flight simulations.

Its general director, Minh, said Vietnam Airlines currently crosses Cambodian airspace when flying between Hanoi and Phu Quoc, a resort island in southern Vietnam.

“We were allowed to expand the existing international air route of Hanoi – Phnom Penh – Kompong Som to Phu Quoc, but it is not that easy in the case of the Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City service,” Minh said.

Luu Duc Khanh, managing director of VietJet Air, said economic benefit is the second most-important factor, behind safety, when it comes to opening a new air route.

“If Laos and Cambodia could slash the airspace usage fees by 50 to 70 percent, I think it would be feasible to apply the new air route,” he said.

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