Vietnam Airlines to buy eight Boeing Dreamliners

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Vietnam Airlines on Saturday signed a deal to buy eight Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in a ceremony witnessed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The national flag carrier will take delivery of the first aircraft in 2015, Vietnam Airlines president and chief executive Pham Ngoc Minh was quoted by Dow Jones Newswires as saying.

He said the airline was also in talks to buy a further eight of the aircraft and lease another three.

At 2008 catalogue prices all eight planes are worth at least 1.55 billion dollars, according to Boeing's website.

"Today marks the continuation of a 15-year relationship between Boeing and Vietnam and represents the introduction of the next generation of flight," the US aircraft maker said in a statement on the signing.

"With this agreement, Vietnam Airlines shows its growing leadership in Southeast Asia by making the 787 Dreamliner the backbone of their twin aisle fleet."

Boeing said that in addition to selling the planes, it will also bring high-tech aviation manufacturing to Vietnam.

"For example, since October 15 of this year, a factory in Hanoi is shipping finished 737 flaps directly to the Boeing plant in Seattle. We look forward to even closer cooperation with Vietnam," it said.

Clinton, who was in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi to attend an Asian summit, witnessed the signing along with Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem.

State-owned Vietnam Airlines is beefing up its fleet amid a strong rebound in air travel led by the Asia Pacific region.

Airlines based in the region carried 15.2 million passengers in September, up 13.4 percent over the previous year, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) said last month.

"Asian economies have been leading the way out of the global downturn and this has resulted in a tremendous boost to the fortunes of carriers across the region," said AAPA director-general Andrew Herdman.

Vietnam Airlines in June became the first Southeast Asian carrier to join the SkyTeam global airline alliance, which already includes Air France and Delta Air Lines of the United States as well as China Southern and Korean Air.

The state-owned carrier adds 20 new destinations to the SkyTeam network, which allows passengers to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles when travelling on member airlines.

Vietnam Airlines is seeking to become one of Southeast Asia's leading carriers. It aims to carry 12 million passengers this year up from 9.35 million last year on its 26 foreign and 20 domestic routes.

The airline is planning to increase its fleet to 115 aircraft by 2015, from 70 at the end of this year.

Boeing's delay-plagued 787 program is almost three years behind the initial schedule. Firm orders for the plastic-composite, fuel-efficient jetliner at the end of the third quarter totaled 847, from 55 customers.

The company said the first Dreamliner will be delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways in the middle of the first quarter 2011.

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