Vietnam private carrier halts service, cites need to restructure

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Vietnamese private carrier Air Mekong has received approval from the country's aviation authorities to halt its flights by the end of this month.

Vo Huy Cuong, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, said the airline said it needs to impose a moratorium in order to restructure its fleet.

The airline has been using four Bombardier CRJ900, each with 90 seats, made in Canada and rented from the US airline company SkyWest, since it started flying in late 2010 and now said it wants to switch to more "appropriate" aircraft, Cuong said in a report by news website VnExpress.

"We are not clear if Air Mekong will choose Boeing or Airbus to renew its fleet," he said.

Dau Tu newspaper reported last August that Air Mekong had planned to add two Airbus A320 aircrafts. The plane can carry a total of 180 passengers and has been used by rivals Vietnam Airlines and VietJetAir.

The official said the carrier might at the same time reform its personnel while continuing commercial activities as planned.

He said no passengers will be affected as the airline has not sold any tickets for flights past February 28, and that it has not specified a day to resume the service, although there are rumors a new flight will not happen before the end of this year.

Air Mekong currently operates flights between the country's three largest cities Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, as well as to Phu Quoc Island off the country's southern coast and Da Lat, a resort town in the Central Highlands.

Tuoi Tre reported early last month that a source from the airline admitted it was being urged by its fuel supplier Vietnam Air Petrol Company to repay debts. The source said the airline's fuel costs were VND1.3 billion (US$624,000) per day.

Air Mekong was the third private commercial airline to be licensed in Vietnam, after Indochina Airlines and VietJet Air.

VietJet Air is the only one still operating with no plans to shut down, as Indochina lost its license in December 2011, together with private freight carrier Trai Thien Air Cargo, for remaining inactive for an extended period.

Indochina acquired its license in May 2008, but halted all its activities by the end of October, 2009, due to financial difficulties, while facing a lawsuit in which Asia Commercial Bank demanded that it repay debts totaling $1.3 million, according to the Transport Ministry.

Trai Thien Air Cargo never launched a flight since being licensed in June 2008.

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