A Vietnam Airlines jet prepares to land at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. According to the Ministry of Transport, Tan Son Nhat is set to service 25 million passengers, its designed capacity, by 2020 and will then become overloaded. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The Ministry of Transport has backed a plan to build a new airport to ease the burden on Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport despite the wishes of two aviation experts.
The ministry on August 18 sent a report to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in response to two former aviation officials' objections to the plan.
According to the ministry, the construction of Long Thanh International Airport, set to be located 40 kilometers outside HCMC in adjacent Dong Nai Province's Long Thanh District, is necessary.
Previously, the Government Office received an alternate proposal from Mai Trong Tuan, a former pilot with Vietnam Airlines, and Le Trong Sanh, a former head of Tan Son Nhat International Airport's Management Department.
The pair said it would be a waste of money to pour US$8 billion into constructing a new airport in the current economic context, suggesting the government expand Tan Son Nhat instead.
They said building the new international airport and using Tan Son Nhat for domestic flights would inconvenience travelers and cargo transport due to the transit that would be required.
"No international passenger wants to take a bus to Tan Son Nhat to catch a domestic flight after their international flight lands at Long Thanh," they said.
According to the Ministry of Transport, Tan Son Nhat would service 19 million passengers this year and 25 million, its designed capacity, by 2020.
It would become overloaded after 2020, it said.
Meanwhile, it is extremely difficult to expand the airport since it is located in a densely populated residential area, according to the ministry.
The Ministry of Transport started researching the location for a new international airport 10 years ago.
The selected location satisfies all criteria for an international airport and ensures the convenient transport of passengers and cargo to HCMC, the ministry said.
According to the ministry, large airports in other countries are usually 15-60 kilometers away from city downtowns and often entail 40-50 minute commutes.
The ministry also praised the Long Thanh location for its large area (12,360 acres), capable of hosting four runways, which would allow it to handle 80-100 million annual passengers.
Furthermore, there are no high rises or plans to build any in the area surrounding the airport, which makes it easier to manage flights, it said.
The ministry said it comprehensively researched expanding Tan Son Nhat or Bien Hoa air base, before concluding that building a new airport in Long Thanh was the best option.
Last month, Nguyen Nguyen Hung, board chairman of state-owned Airports Corporation of Vietnam (ACV), which manages Vietnam's 22 civil airports, said in a conference held by the ministry that now is the time to build the Long Thanh airport.
As Tan Son Nhat airport is on pace be overloaded by 2020, plans to build Long Thanh airport are already behind schedule, given the fact that it takes around 10 years to construct an international airport, he explained.
A report drafted by Japan Airports Consultants said Tan Son Nhat airport was not designed to handle the 20-25 million annual passengers it will be forced to handle from 2018-2020, making it crucial that a new airport be built in Long Thanh.
The Japanese consulting firm provided a scenario for Long Thanh airport that would have it handle 80 percent of international flights and 10 percent of domestic flights that currently route in and out of HCMC.
Tan Son Nhat, which was a military base during the Vietnam War, would eventually be used mostly to ferry domestic passengers, along with the remaining 20 percent of international flights.
In the latest move, on Wednesday, Sanh told a group of retired aviation officials at a meeting at his house that the transport ministry's argument was unconvincing.
"We should listen to opinions from former aviation officials to make proposals to the government before the National Assembly [Vietnam's legislature] approves the new airport project," he said.
Sanh said Vietnam currently has five international airports capable of handling a combined 20 million annual passengers and easing Tan Son Nhat's burden.
Furthermore, it would be better to spend the approximately $2 billion it would cost to upgrade Tan Son Nhat and Bien Hoa air base, than to fork out $8 billion to build the Long Thanh airport.
Nguyen Thien Tong, a former teacher at the University of Technology in HCMC, agreed.
"We should upgrade Tan Son Nhat, as it will get support from other international airports.
"Maybe we can build an airport in Long Thanh sometime in the next 40 years."
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