Vietnam Airlines says may start US flights in 2011

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Vietnam Airlines Corp. said it may start flights to the US as soon as the second half of next year if American and Vietnamese regulatory authorities can reach an agreement.

The state-owned airline applied to American regulatory authorities in 2008 to begin flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles via Osaka. UAL Corp.'s United Airlines started operating flights to Ho Chi Minh City in 2004 to become the first American passenger carrier to fly to the Southeast Asian country since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

More than 403,000 Americans visited Vietnam last year, second to Chinese nationals among the sources of foreign visitors to the country. The US is also Vietnam's biggest export market.

"We are ready, we can start flying there anytime," Vietnam Airlines Chief Executive Pham Ngoc Minh said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Ho Chi Minh City Monday. "We are just waiting for the two countries' aviation authorities to reach some technical agreement to clear these barriers."

Vietnam Airlines is also buying American-made planes, with Minh saying Monday that the Hanoi-based company expects to receive its first of 16 Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner jets after 2015, without giving a specific date.

The carrier is expanding its fleet to include aircraft like the 787 to benefit from Asia's long-term air-travel growth. Boeing is more than two years behind schedule on producing the Dreamliner, saying last month it continues to struggle with incomplete parts from suppliers.

The Vietnamese carrier is still in talks on buying four Airbus SAS A380s, Minh said. The airline said in November last year that it was considering buying the plane, the world's biggest passenger aircraft.

Vietnam Airlines expects to take delivery of 10 aircraft this year, including ATR-72s and Airbus SAS A321s and A330s, Minh said. The carrier will have a total of 70 aircraft by the end of 2010, he said.

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