Why don’t we close Tan Son Nhat airport?

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A Vietnam Airlines jet airplane prepares to land at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Bloomberg

An important recent incident persuaded me to write this piece. Yakabe Yoshinori, Japan’s deputy general consul in Ho Chi Minh City, held a meeting with Dong Nai Province authorities on February 14 to discuss construction of Long Thanh International Airport.

It was reported that the Japanese government is still undecided whether to provide official development assistance funding for the project.

At the meeting, Yoshinori said his government has not made a final decision because the airport remains controversial in Vietnam.

Some people are calling for upgrading Tan Son Nhat International Airport in nearby Ho Chi Minh City instead of building a new one in Dong Nai.

I am frustrated by the whole thing, especially the criticism of the construction of Long Thanh.

I had thought that the criticism lacked conviction and would not have a significant bearing on the decision to go ahead.

I did not expect it to end up affecting the Japanese government’s decision on assistance for what is a major national project.

Let me say right away that it is short-sighted to insist on continuing to use Tan Son Nhat airport, which is right in the heart of HCMC.

It blocks the way from Go Vap, Hoc Mon, and District 12 to districts Phu Nhuan, Tan Binh, 1, and 3.

We need to realize that Tan Son Nhat is located on a 1,500-hectare (3,706 acres) area, or almost twice the size of District 1 and three times that of District 3 and Phu Nhuan.

Just think about the inconvenience of having such a large area located in the heart of a city.

It would be great if the area is developed into a district and houses the city’s administrative center.

Many government agencies, central agencies, foreign consulates, convention centers, and cultural centers can be moved to this place to make it more convenient for everyone. The existing offices in districts 1 and 3 can then be used for other purposes.

An area of 1,500 hectares can become the city’s beautiful center. Just thinking about this makes me shout out aloud: “It’s beautiful! So beautiful!”

But it is unfortunate that the area has the airport, which also affects the vicinity since it is illegal to build tall buildings.

It also makes for an ugly sight from the air since large swathes of it is covered in wild grasses and shrub.

There are so many more problems it causes that I cannot list them all here.

Alas, how is it that some people want to keep the current airport despite all the problems it causes?

I am surprised, in fact, that no one is talking about the necessity of relocating the airport. Why? Is it because of the money that will have to be spent?

If that is the reason, I want to point out something which I can see myself though I am not an economist.

The value of the 1,500 hectares of land will be huge once the airport is moved. It will surely be worth the amount needed for the construction of a new airport and a number of other huge projects that the country needs for development - like dozens of modern bridges, hundreds of beautiful streets in the city, and even a north-south expressway.

To conclude, let me sum up: We should not upgrade Tan Son Nhat airport or scrap the plan to build Long Thanh. We should simply close down Tan Son Nhat because doing so would offer countless benefits.

Based on Japan’s indecision, I am raising an issue that has not been on the agenda so far. But I believe that it will soon be discussed in parliament. I strongly believe so.

By Tran Dinh Thu

The writer is a lawyer, journalist and film editor who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.
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