New private carrier gears up for first flight

TN News

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Officials announced Monday that Air Mekong, the nation's nascent luxury airline, is planning its first flight on October 10.

The Mekong Delta-based outfit was licensed in 2008 to become Vietnam's third private carrier after Indochina and VietJet AirAsia.

Truong Thanh Vu, the carrier's director of commercial service, said tourists and businesspeople will be the target market for the frilly flights.

"Vietnam's aviation market is coming up on the heels of the world's economic and airline recovery, offering opportunities for carriers around the globe and new jets to join the market," Vu told Thanh Nien Weekly.

He said Vietnam's aviation market saw a 20 percent increase in sales in the first half of this year. Vu added that, on some routes, the country saw a 30-50 percent jump, a good sign for carriers that took a hit during the global economic crisis.

The country is once again drawing international tourists and businesspeople for leisure, trade and investment, adding more demand to the market, he said.

Vu said the market is still young. Only six domestic airlines have been licensed so far, including the flagship carrier Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific. Vu says there is still great potential for traditional and low-cost carriers to break into the market.

Air Mekong applied for aviation operator certificates to open routes between big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Can Tho and Hai Phong and scenic getaways like Nha Trang, Da Lat, Vinh and Phu Quoc.

The carrier has received four Bombardier CRJ-900 airplanes leased from US firm Sky West Leasing Inc. Local newspapers said the American company would retain a 30 percent stake in Air Mekong thus becoming a strategic shareholder in the venture whose charter capital was reported at VND200 billion.

Vu refused to confirm the news. He did say, however, that the private carrier has hired 40 US pilots, who will take off in October. Tickets sales begin online next month.

No private carrier is currently operating flights in Vietnam. Indochina was the first private carrier to break into Vietnamese airspace in late 2007. However, the company suspended flights last

October due to losses incurred during the crisis.

The second private carrier VietJet AirAsia 30 percent of which is owned by the Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia delayed its first flights twice in May and August. At this time, the joint stock company has not announced plans to reschedule the take-off.

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