Bamboo Airways has taken delivery of its first two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners this week in Singapore. The two aircraft are set to start flying for the Vietnamese carrier next month. They are the first widebodied aircraft for Bamboo Airways and are seen as key to the airline’s expansion, especially on international routes.
According to VN Express, the carrier took possession of the two 787-9s at a handover ceremony on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The aircraft came from GE Capital Aviation Services. The airline is keen to stretch its horizons beyond Vietnam and South East Asia. Up until now, Bamboo Airways has been operating a fleet of narrowbody Airbuses. The arrival of the 787-9s signifies a change in strategy for Bamboo Airways.
It is not just a pair of Dreamliners Bamboo is getting
In addition to this week’s arrivals, Bamboo Airways has ordered 30 Boeing 787-9s from the Seattle manufacturer, with deliveries expected to commence in early 2020. Indeed, the carrier seems almost ridiculously bullish about its short to medium term prospects.
With the addition of the two 787-9s this week, the airline has 12 aircraft in its fleet. In a statement, Bamboo Airways expects this fleet to grow to 30 in the first quarter of 2020 and 100 by 2024. Currently, the airline is flying to 28 destinations. VN Express says, maybe incorrectly, that this will grow to 37 or 40 by the end of the year.
An impressive or reckless rate of growth?
Depending on your point of view, it’s an impressive or dangerously reckless rate of growth for an airline that only got off the ground in early 2019. The following month Bamboo Airways ordered a batch of Dreamliners from Boeing, saying it wanted to start flying to the United States. In April, it ordered 50 A321neo from Airbus.
In June, the bullishness was turbo charged when Bamboo announced it was eyeing A380 flights. That might have caused many to scoff but a few airlines with surplus A380s were probably quietly hoping Bamboo Airways would follow through and maybe take a couple of spare planes off their hands.
While the Vietnamese carrier now flies around Vietnam and operates charter flights into China, Japan, and Taiwan (with South Korea set to join the network in November), the Dreamliners will aid Bamboo Airways in its long haul ambitions. Bamboo Airways has said recently that it would like to fly to Europe. Interestingly, it has chosen Prague as its first destination. Prague is a nice city and all, but …
Bamboo Airways counters skepticism about the wisdom of Prague as a destination, saying the Czech Republic was an important market for Bamboo. They claim it will be a stepping stone for more routes into Europe, which they plan to be all over by 2025.
In the cold light of day
Think I’m being cynical and tough on Bamboo Airways? Perhaps. But exponential growth trajectories rarely work out well for airlines. In the last two decades we’ve seen carriers from the Middle East and China effectively come from nowhere then go flat out opening new routes and ordering new planes.
In the majority of cases, these carriers have lost copious amounts of money doing so and since pulled their heads in. What set these carriers about was that they were Government owned or owned by an entity that was Government, so they had access to very deep cash reserves.
Bamboo Airways is privately owned and doesn’t have the luxury of those governmental cash reserves. Although it seems to have similar ambitions, it does not have access to the resources that fuelled the rise of the Middle Eastern and Chinese carriers. But Bamboo Airways seems hellbent on growing like mad, opening lots of new routes, and flying masses of aircraft around the place – all very quickly.
It’s a strategy that’s got trouble written all over it. Vietnam may be growing but as the Thai Airways withdrawal from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming illustrates, there’s not a limitless pool of passengers for services.
I wish Bamboo Airways well. Hopefully, their actual growth won’t match their rhetoric, some of those excessive airline orders can be modified, and the airline will prosper in a sustainable, sensible and manageable way.