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Cablegate: Vietnam's Aviation Industry Takes Off

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HANOI 003092

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR E, EAP/BCLTV, AND EB/TRA
STATE PASS TO EXIM ROBERT MORIN
TRANSPORTATION FOR EOPPLER AND DMODESITT
USDOC FOR ITA/TD/SIF/EALFORD
FAA FOR AFS 50 AND AIAA 400
AMEMBASSY BANGKOK FOR TSA SWALLOOPPILLAI
AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE FOR FAA HNESBITT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR EINV PREL VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAM'S AVIATION INDUSTRY TAKES OFF

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

1. (U) SUMMARY: Vietnam's aviation industry is seeking to
catch up with those of other countries in the region. The
government has dramatically changed its approach to the
industry by allowing foreign carriers to increase their
share of the market, but the change is unlikely to harm its
domestic carriers. On the contrary, the GVN anticipates
robust growth within the sector and has embarked on an
ambitious airport development plan to accommodate the
increase in air travel through the year 2020. U.S. and
Vietnamese carriers are also moving to take advantage of the
provisions granted under the United States - Vietnam Air
Transport Agreement (ATA) that became effective in December
2003. END SUMMARY.


AN INDUSTRY WITH HIGH GROWTH AND GREAT POTENTIAL
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (U) Vietnamese air transport markets are once again
becoming attractive after the regional economic crisis of
1996-1998. From 2001-2002 the aviation industry in Vietnam
experienced a growth rate of over 20% in passenger traffic
and 30% in cargo traffic. In 2003, 6.9 million passengers
traveled through Vietnam's international and domestic
airports. The SARS epidemic in early 2003 slowed the high
growth rates from those of 2001-02, but the industry
recovered in the latter half of 2003 and attained even
higher rates of growth in the first half of 2004. With a
population of 81 million, annual economic growth rates
between 7-8%, and increasing investment and tourism, Vietnam
has much potential for future aviation growth. One new
trend that will also help spur growth is that with rising
incomes more Vietnamese are traveling abroad for leisure.

GVN SHIFTS POLICY TO FAVOR COMPETITION
--------------------------------------

3. (U) The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV),
under the Ministry of Transportation, has been tasked to
open the Vietnamese aviation market to foreign carriers.
CAAV's long-term goal is to reduce the market share of
Vietnamese air carriers to 35%. In 2002, Vietnamese air
carriers controlled 46% of the market. Their share declined
to 43.8% in 2004. This policy change was not only reflected
at the negotiating table with the United States last year,
but it is also evident in the practice of allowing foreign
carriers to increase their frequencies and seats. CAAV
believes that this will boost tourism, support business
development, and increase the overall size of the aviation
transport market. Vietnam Airlines (VNA) seems to agree with
the GVN's assessment of future growth. In preparation for
market expansion, they are going ahead with plans to acquire
several long and medium range aircraft through purchase and
lease agreements in 2005.

VIETNAM'S AIR TRANSPORT MARKET AND VIETNAMESE CARRIERS
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (U) Three Vietnamese air carriers and 20 foreign carriers
currently operate at three international and 20 domestic
airports in Vietnam. In the first six months of 2004, all
23 airlines carried four million passengers, both
international and domestic, and 104,000 tons of cargo, a
growth of 34% in passengers and 12.4% in cargo compared to
the same period of 2003. Out of nearly 2.5 million
passengers flying internationally in the first six months of
2004, Vietnamese carriers carried nearly 1.1 million,
achieving a growth rate of 40.9%. Foreign carriers
transported the remainder, achieving an even higher growth
rate of 44.7%. In the first six months of this year,
Vietnamese carriers transported almost 30% of a total of
77,465 tons of cargo for a growth rate of 44.3% over the
first six months of 2003. In contrast, cargo transported by
foreign carriers only grew by 4.7% over the same period.

5. (U) VIETNAM AIRLINES CORPORATION. VNA was established in
1993 through combining 20 aviation businesses. It currently
operates a fleet of 38 aircraft: six B777s, five B767s, 10
A320s, six A321s, nine ATR72s, and two Fokker 70s. In 2005,
according to VNA Deputy General Manager of Route and Market
Planning, the fleet will grow to well over 40 planes if VNA
realizes its plans to lease additional B777s, B767s, A321s,
and possibly A330s. VNA is also in the preliminary stages
of ordering ten to fifteen B7E7s for possible delivery in
2009. These aircraft will replace the B767s and accommodate
continued growth in traffic. In the first six months of
this year, VNA's share of domestic traffic increased by 2.1%
to 88.3%, and its load factor, or seat occupancy, declined
0.6% to 75.9%. Its share of international traffic increased
by 0.3% to 41%, and its load factor fell 2.4% to 58.2%. So
far this year, VNA has also opened seven new international
routes, all to different destinations within countries in
which it already has a presence. VNA operates a total of 30
international routes and 20 domestic routes.

6. (SBU) PACIFIC AIRLINES. Pacific Airlines is the second
largest of the three airlines, and VNA owns 86% of the
company with the remainder owned by other large state-owned
enterprises. Pacific Airlines operates one A320 and two
A321s. It shares 11.7% of domestic traffic and 2.8% of
international traffic. Its share of these sectors has
declined by 2.1% and 1.0% respectively over the same period
of last year. However, its load factor has increased by 8.3%
on international flights and 5.3% on domestic flights to
70.6% and 77.8% respectively compared to the same period of
last year. Pacific Airlines is flying on three international
routes and three domestic routes. According to Boeing,
Pacific Airlines has discussed the possibility of acquiring
B737s.

7. (U) VIETNAM AIR SERVICES COMPANY (VASCO). Vasco is the
smallest of Vietnam's three airlines, and it is a wholly
owned subsidiary of VNA. VASCO was established mainly as an
air taxi service and has recently started to fly short
distances from Ho Chi Minh City to the tourist destinations
of Con Dao and Ca Mau. The GVN has backed away from an
announcement made in early August 2004 that VASCO and the
Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) would
begin to operate a tourist shuttle to a military outpost in
the disputed Spratly Islands in early 2005. VASCO had
planned to fly VNA's old Russian-built Antonov 38s to a
refurbished 600-meter runway at a military outpost in the
archipelago.

AIRPORT ENLARGEMENT AND MODERNIZATION
-------------------------------------

8. (U) Among nearly 2.5 million passengers flying
internationally in the first six months of this year,
1,730,000 passengers, accounting for 70% of traffic, used
Tan Son Nhat (TSN) airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Another
730,000, accounting for 29% of traffic, used Hanoi's Noi Bai
Airport. The remaining 1%, 22,000 passengers, traveled
through Danang's international airport in central Vietnam.
The year-to-date growth rates of TSN, Noi Bai, and Danang
are 65%, 49%, and 32%, respectively. CAAV has already
turned down several requests from foreign airlines such as
Thai Airways for increased flight frequency to TSN because
the airport is running out of capacity on the runways and in
terminals. CAAV is in the process of expanding terminals in
TSN, but will still have to deal with the limitation of two

SIPDIS
parallel runways that will continue to compel aircraft to
approach from only one direction.

9. (U) According to CAAV's airport development plan, in
2010, the three current international airports will have a
combined annual capacity of 25 million international and
domestic passengers and 580,000 tons of cargo. By 2020,
their annual capacity will increase to 35 million passengers
and 1.2 million tons of cargo. A new international airport
in Dong Nai province, near Ho Chi Minh City, will be built
to supplement TSN airport. This airport, with a capacity of
20 million passengers and 1 million tons of cargo, will be
completed in 2015. Another international airport at Chu Lai,
a former American air base in central Quang Nam province, is
being built to serve as a cargo hub. It will have a
capacity of 0.6 million passengers and 1 million tons of
cargo. It will be complete around 2010. By 2020, its
capacity will increase to 1.5 million passengers and 4.5
million tons of cargo.

10. (SBU) Vietnam is rapidly modernizing its flight control
operations and integrating into regional systems. The
revenue from flight operation services is smaller than that
generated by the monopoly air carrier VNA. However, it
contributes more to the state budget because the services
are low-cost and high yield and air traffic in Vietnam's air
space is increasing. In 1992 Vietnam reclaimed from
Thailand the right to operate Flight Information Region
(FIR) centers. Vietnam operates two centers, one in Hanoi
and one in Ho Chi Minh City. By 2010, Vietnam plans to
operate a single center covering the entire country.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE AIR TRANSPORT AGREEMENT
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (U) The United States-Vietnam bilateral ATA became
effective in December 2003. American Airlines (AA) was the
first U.S. carrier to seek to take advantage of its new
provisions. AA applied for permission to operate two-party
code-shares with VNA. This application prompted technical
assessments on the part of the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) to insure that CAAV properly regulates
Vietnam's airlines and airports in accordance with safety
and security standards set by the International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO). Technical assistance programs
designed to prepare CAAV for the ICAO assessments are
currently underway.

12. (SBU) In early 2004, United Airlines (UAL) sought CAAV's
approval to advance the provision of the ATA allowing direct
flights between the United States and Vietnam via Hong Kong
with fifth freedoms (the right to sell tickets separately
for each leg of the flight). CAAV approved this request,
and UAL has set a start date of December 11, 2004 for the
initial flight out of HCMC. CAAV approved UAL's application
for authority to operate daily flights out of HCMC on
October 18, 2004. UAL's operations still depend on TSA's
final approval of TSN airport's security plan administered
by the Southern Airports Authority (SAA) of CAAV.
Currently, UAL has no plans to operate flights with beyonds
from Hanoi unless Tokyo becomes available as an interim
point in the future.

13. (SBU) The ATA provides for unlimited third-party code-
sharing agreements between U.S. carriers, licensed foreign
carriers, and VNA. Currently, UAL, Delta, and AA take
advantage of these opportunities. Continental and Northwest
Airlines have also expressed interest in taking advantage of
the provision for direct flights between the United States
and Vietnam. Northwest would most likely operate a route
similar to that of UAL through Hong Kong. Continental
Micronesia has considered operating a route between HCMC and
Hawaii via Guam. U.S. cargo carriers UPS and FedEx have yet
to take advantage of the provisions of the ATA allowing
direct flights. They are currently servicing the Vietnamese
market from their regional hubs at Subic Bay in the
Philippines and will shift to direct services when they
believe the market will support such service.

14. (SBU) Vietnam Airlines would like to begin operating
direct flights between the United States and Vietnam in
early 2006. They currently plan to fly non-stop between
HCMC and San Francisco. This is contingent upon CAAV
meeting ICAO standards and passing a FAA International
Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA). TSA approval of TSN
airport for UAL's operations will also suffice for VNA
should SAA/CAAV prove they can maintain adequate security
operations in the interim. FAA conducted a Technical Review
of CAAV in April 2004 and found that CAAV failed to meet
minimum ICAO standards. Boeing Corporation has elected to
support the next stage of a technical assistance program to
help CAAV prepare for the IASA. A private consultant will
be hired to help CAAV create a plan by the end of 2005 to
implement the necessary oversight and management controls,
as well as the legislative changes, to bring them into
compliance with ICAO safety standards. Many of the
authorizations and responsibilities granted to CAAV are
scattered among various regulations and official decisions
that do not carry the weight of law but will have to be
consolidated and elevated into one law to comply with ICAO
standards.

15. (SBU) Comment: With some guidance, we believe CAAV is
capable of making the necessary upgrades to insure proper
oversight and management of safety programs. A major issue
will be the legislative reform effort that will take some
time and the direct engagement of CAAV Director General
Nguyen Tien Sam, also a Vice Minister of Transportation.
The National Assembly (NA) already faces a backlog of high
priority legislation because of commitments made under
various trade agreements and preparations for joining the
WTO. Vice Minister Sam will need to make an effort to have
the NA give priority to this legislation. End Comment.

16. (U) Regional Representatives from TSA and FAA have
cleared this cable.
MARINE

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