The Ministry of Transport’s plan to build an airport in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang has been labeled by critics as unnecessary.
“Building an airport will cost much money while there is no urgent demand for it,” Tran Huu Hiep, economic department chief at the Southwestern Steering Committee, said.
“There are Can Tho, Rach Gia and Phu Quoc airports at a close distance.”
Hiep was speaking at a recent meeting to discuss the itinerary for a conference on developing infrastructure and logistics in the delta to be held on August 22.
The plan envisages construction of the airport by a public-private partnership at a cost of more than VND3.41 trillion (US$154 million) to serve both civilian and military flights.
The first stage will be finished in 2020 when it can handle smaller aircraft like ATR72, and the second stage by 2030 airport when it can serve larger aircraft and 100,000 passengers a year.
Vuong Binh Thanh, chairman of the An Giang People’s Committee, said the province has three military airports that cannot be expanded for use by civilian aircraft.
“The new airport will attract more investors to An Giang and serve tourists and local people’s demand.”
An Giang ranks first among delta provinces in number of tourists with more than five million a year, he said.
Hiep also said the project would need to be reconsidered because it is located near the border with Cambodia and flights might have to enter the neighbor’s airspace.
“The money should be invested to build roads because there are up to 60 communes in nine Mekong Delta provinces that are inaccessible by car.”
Many experts said another airport would be unnecessary in the delta because two others had to cancel several routes due to low demand.
Can Tho Airport was upgraded in 2011 to handle international flights and five million passengers and 5,000 tons of cargo a year.
However, it is operating at a mere 10 percent of the designed capacity.
Nguyen Khanh Tung, director of the Can Tho Investment – Trade- Tourism Promotion Center said that in 2015 Vietravel coordinated with Can Tho authorities to launch flights to Da Lat, Khanh Hoa and Bangkok to promote tourism.
But all three services have been suspended due to low number of passengers, he said.
The situation at Ca Mau Airport is even worse. The airport, built in 2003, handles only two flights to and from HCMC a day, an ATR72 aircraft with a capacity of 74 passengers.
A Ca Mau transport official, who wanted to remain unnamed, said the airport could not compete with buses.
“An air ticket to HCMC costs more than VND1.5 million for a three- or four-hour trip, including waiting time. But it takes only VND185,000 and six hours by sleeper bus with frequent buses and free transport to their doorstep.”