Vietnam lawmakers show support for controversial Long Thanh Airport project

By Truong Son , Thanh Nien News

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Airplanes parked at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Reuters Airplanes parked at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Reuters


A matter of heated debate over the past few years, the government's plan to build a new international airport in southern Vietnam has finally gained support from lawmakers.
Speaking at the National Assembly's sitting on Thursday, many legislators expressed their beliefs in the urgency and economic effectiveness of the Long Thanh Airport project, which was once dismissed as "wasteful" by many critics.
Under the government's proposal, set to be voted on later this month, the airport will be built at an estimated cost of $15.8 billion in the southern province of Dong Nai, about 40 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.
When it goes into operation in 2025, Long Thanh will be able to serve 38 million passengers annually. The country's biggest airport Tan Son Nhat in HCMC has a designed capacity of 20 million passengers.
Its first stage of development is slated to start next year and will cost $6.6 billion. The government will foot 11 percent of the bill and international loans will cover 26.5 percent. 
The rest will come from private investors. 
Nguyen Quoc Binh, an assemblyman from Hanoi, said since the government planned to make Long Thanh an international transit for Asia-Pacific, it would boost Vietnam's economic development.
Investors are "surely" aware of the project's national importance, so funding "should not be too big a concern," he said.
Representative Nguyen Ngoc Phuong from the central province of Quang Binh agreed, saying that with a growing demand for air travel, the airport would be profitable.
In the meantime, Tran Du Lich from HCMC urged the government to speed up the project, as Tan Son Nhat was showing signs of being overloaded.
Tan Son Nhat reached its designed capacity of 20 million passengers in 2013, three years earlier than expected. It received more than 22 million passengers last year.
A forced agreement?
Some lawmakers however said they agreed to the project because there was nothing else they could do, as the government had already worked on the plan for years.
Duong Trung Quoc, from the southern province of Dong Nai, said Long Thanh Airport was actually part of a plan to develop the southern region which was started 10 years ago.
Over the years, other parts of the bigger plan had been carried out in connection with the airport, including highways, he said.
"If we say no to the airport, what about the bigger development plan? How wasteful is it going to be?"
The airport should have been put up for discussion and approval years ago, Quoc said, warning that the longer it was delayed, the more it would cost.
He also urged the government to improve the project's transparency and collect opinions from scientists and the piblic.
Huynh Van Tinh from the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang agreed, saying that the government needed to take cautions when carrying out the project's feasibility study and mobilizing its fund to make sure that it would not affect Vietnam's public debt.

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