Local carriers are slamming a suggestion to park aircraft overnight at a nearby airport instead of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in order to ease pressure on Vietnam’s busiest airdrome, saying that sluggish expansion plans for the terminal should be sped up instead.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam requested last week that four local carriers, Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jetstar Pacific, and Vasco, prepare to park their aircraft overnight at Can Tho International Airport by January 30, 2017.
The apron area at the Ho Chi Minh City-based Tan Son Nhat is currently able to serve 57 planes, a number far less than the rising number of planes owned by local carriers, according to the CAAV.
The suggestion, however, was met with immediate protest from local airlines, saying that parking the aircraft in Can Tho will cause operation costs to skyrocket, an issue that will eventually be passed on to passengers in the form of airfare hikes.
The carriers said what really needs to be done is begin construction on the several approved expansion projects for Tan Son Nhat.
Can Tho International Airport
Projects that never start
In August, the Ministry of Defense agreed to transfer a 21-hectare plot near Tan Son Nhat to its transport counterpart, allowing the latter to build a new airport apron capable of parking 37 planes, though the project has yet to be implemented.
An aviation expert said the project should be carried out as soon as possible in order to avoid forcing airlines to park in Can Tho.
“The 21-hectare land plot is cleared, meaning construction work can begin immediately, though the two parties involved in the deal still would rather discuss the project rather than kick-start it into action,” he added.
The land plot the defense ministry has transferred to the transport ministry.
The defense and transport ministries had previously reached an agreement to develop a dual-purpose airport for civil and military use on a separate ten hectare land plot near Tan Son Nhat.
The VND2.1 trillion (US$93.75 million) project would have a 10 million yearly passenger capacity and take 18 months to complete, but plans for its construction are still pending approval from higher authorities.
Addressing complaints over the two delayed projects, Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Nhat told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that there is still a lot of paperwork to be done before the airport expansion can begin.
Nhat said the new airport apron and the dual-purpose airdrome will increase the service capacity for Tan Son Nhat, but will do little help to reduce its current overload.
The airport currently has only a one-way taxiway, meaning departing planes must wait until arriving aircraft leave the taxiway before they can take off. As a result, flights normally need 25 to 30 minutes just for taxiing.
In the meantime, Lai Xuan Thanh, head of the CAAV, said the transport ministry has given in-principle approval for a plan to build a new taxiway so that landing and departing planes will no longer have to share one route, though he did not elaborate on when the project will begin.
Arriving passengers wait to grab taxis at Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
The Can Tho International Airport sits some 180km southwest of its Ho Chi Minh City counterpart.
A representative of a local carrier said it will cost at least $10,000 a night in fuel costs alone for parking in Can Tho and returning to Tan Son Nhat the next day.
A top official at another airline said the carrier must also account for accommodation and other costs for the aircrew and maintenance team while parking the aircraft.
Vo Huy Cuong, deputy head of the CAAV, said the aviation watchdog only meant to “suggest instead of formally requesting” that airlines park overnight in Can Tho.
“We never force airlines to fly their empty planes to Can Tho for the night,” Cuong said.