Vietnam remains firm on controversial airport project

Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the April 4th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)

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Central government wants to go ahead with a multi-billion dollar plan to build the Long Thanh Airport in Dong Nai Province, as the project is set to be voted by lawmakers in June

A plane seen from a residential area in Ho Chi Minh City as it descends to land at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Photo: Doc Lap 
The Ministry of Transport has rejected proposals by a group of constituents who want to expand the current Tan Son Nhat airport instead of building a new one in Dong Nai Province.
Plans for the new airport also envisage building a new golf course at Tan Son Nhat on land that critics say could be used for airport expansion instead.
In response to constituents in Tan Binh District – where Tan Son Nhat is located – who say they have no need for a golf course, the ministry has argued that the construction of the Long Thanh airport will satisfy demands that Tan Son Nhat cannot because the number of passengers is increasing.
In a petition last month, the constituents said Vietnam should not build Long Thanh airport, which is expected to cost at least US$7 billion in the first stage because the country is still poor.
Vietnam should not use official development assistance to build the airport while the Tan Son Nhat airport has not even been fully exploited yet, they said.
They also demanded a revocation of plans to turn the airport’s buffer zone into a golf course instead of using it to expand the current airport.
In its response, the transport ministry said Tan Son Nhat airport served 20 million passengers in 2013 and it would be overloaded soon.
Expanding Tan Son Nhat to serve 40-45 million passengers a year will be costly and unfeasible because it is located in the residential area only seven kilometers from the city center, Tuoi Tre (Youth) quoted a ministry document as saying.
The transport ministry said Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Binh Duong and Ba Ria - Vung Tau provinces are major airline transport markets that link to bustling air transport routes in Southeast Asia.
A major international airport is necessary to meet domestic and regional demand and Long Thanh is a better place than other airports in the area, it said.
Regarding the golf course project at Tan Son Nhat, the ministry said it was approved under proposals from the ministries of defense, construction and planning and investment after being reviewed by other relevant ministries.
New airport
At a meeting to discuss the construction of Long Thanh airport on March 27, transport minister Dinh La Thang reaffirmed that the project is necessary for the country’s development.
He instructed relevant agencies to clarify the necessity of the project and the choice to build it in Long Thanh instead of Bien Hoa, Can Tho or Da Lat and why Tan Son Nhat should not be expanded instead.
According to the Airports Corporation of Vietnam, the Long Thanh airport is expected to serve up to 100 million passengers and five million tons of goods a year by 2030, becoming a major airport in Southeast Asia.
The first stage is scheduled for completion in 2020 to serve 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of goods a year, with an investment of $7 billion.
In January, Dong Nai authorities met with relevant agencies to discuss the resettlement of local residents for the Long Thanh airport project.
A total of 5,381 households of more than 17,000 residents will be affected by the project, including 3,321 households that will have all their land revoked.
Compensation for affected residents is expected to be more than VND20.77 trillion.
The project is set to be built on an area of 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) overlapping six communes in Dong Nai’s Long Thanh District.
At a government teleconference last December, authorities in HCMC and Dong Nai both supported the construction of Long Thanh airport.
“Without a new airport, Tan Son Nhat will be overloaded in two or three years,” said HCMC mayor Le Hoang Quan.
Dinh Quoc Thai, chairman of the Dong Nai People’s Committee, said the government should facilitate the Long Thanh airport project so the province will develop stronger and more quickly soon.
However, Nguyen Xuan Thanh, director of the Public Policy Program at the HCMC-based Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, told Dat Viet newspaper that his team had assessed the project and found it to be financially-ineffective.
"No investor is interested in investing in the airport under a BOT [build-operate-transfer] project. It will need to use ODA [official development assistant]. The problem then is that the whole country has to pay the debt.”
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