Vietnam's smaller centers fail to interest foreign airlines

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Can Tho International Airport in the Mekong Delta / PHOTO: DIEP DUC MINH

Half of Vietnam's eight international airports mainly serve domestic flights despite aviation authorities' initiatives to attract foreign airlines.

Last September the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam announced a halving of landing fees and ground handling costs at five airports to attract international carriers.

But Phu Bai near Hue, Lien Khuong near Da Lat, and Can Tho and Phu Quoc in the Mekong Delta have difficulty even in attracting domestic airlines.

Only Cam Ranh near Nha Trang has had any success.

Phu Quoc, for instance, opened in 2012 with a capacity to handle more than three million passengers a year and plans to attract flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia.

But there are no international flights yet and passenger numbers are only a fourth of the capacity, CAAV chief Lai Xuan Thanh told Thanh Nien.

Foreign airlines, despite being interested in starting flights to Phu Quoc, remain concerned about the quality of the island's tourism infrastructure, he said.

Since it opened its international terminal in 2011, Can Tho airport has received flights from Taiwan only before and after Tet (the Lunar New Year).

The airport, with a capacity of three-five million passengers a year, sees three round flights from Hanoi and Phu Quoc every day.

Flights from Ho Chi Minh City have been canceled due to lack of demand.

Lien Khuong Airport was also upgraded in 2009 to serve 1.5-two million passengers annually. But it now receives flights from HCMC, the central city of Da Nang, and Hanoi.

Though the Ministry of Transport has approved a proposal by Lam Dong Province, where the airport is located, to begin flights to Singapore, it is not known when that will happen.

Phu Bai only received flights from HCMC and Hanoi.

Thanh said the start of international flights to these airports depends on the market and carriers.

There is large demand for international flights to Cam Ranh, but very low elsewhere, he said.

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Asked if it was wasteful to invest in international terminals that remain unused, he said since the standards for domestic and international terminals are almost the same, there would be no waste, implying they could be used for local flights.

Meanwhile, more domestic airports are planning to add international terminals -- like Vinh in the north-central province of Nghe An and Cat Bi in the northern port city of Hai Phong.

Official figures show that 21 airports in Vietnam served nearly 45 million passengers last year, with Tan Son Nhat in HCMC accounting for 20 million and Noi Bai in Hanoi for more than 12 million.

Three domestic and 51 foreign airlines currently serve Vietnam.

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