Vietnam Airlines could be just weeks away from realizing an ambition it has held for almost two decades. On the back of operating several repatriation fights to the United States, the airline is gearing up to launch a direct service from Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco, starting in October.
October for US flights?
It’s been a long time coming, but it seems that Vietnam Airlines is finally ready to press ahead with flights to the United States. The airline has outlined plans to launch flights in October, bringing to fruition a dream that has been on the mind of this airline for more than two decades.
Even with the difficulties of COVID still plaguing the carrier’s books, CEO Le Hong Ha told Bloomberg in an interview that October is the target. The airline plans to fly its Airbus A350 or perhaps its Boeing 787 on the inaugural route, which will target san Francisco from Ho Chi Minh City.
Although international travel is still likely to be tricky in October, the CEO stated that the airline would be able to offset the losses from the lack of passengers by transporting cargo on these services. Cargo remains at an all-time high in terms of rates and is proving to be a vital lifeline in the recovery of air traffic services.
Vietnam Airlines has both the 787-9 and the 787-10 in its fleet, with 11 of the smaller and four of the larger aircraft in the stable. It also has 14 A350-900s. The A350s can make the trip from SGN to SFO fairly easily – GCMaps show the route to have a direct Great Circle distance of 6,811 NM.
The A350’s published range is 8,100 NM, although that can vary based on its load and passenger configuration. The 787’s would struggle a bit, with the -10 published at a range of 6,345 NM and the -9 at 7,530. Vietnam Airlines’ CEO suggested there would be a refueling stop involved, although he didn’t say where which could indicate the Dreamliner is the favorite to operate this route.
Vietnam Airlines has been keen on flights to the US for a very long time. In 2003, the Ministry of Transport encouraged the airline to begin US flights by 2005. However, its low levels of profitability would not allow it to go ahead.
Having secured its Category 1 FAA rating in early 2019, it seemed that the time was right for Vietnamese airlines to begin services to the States. In the autumn of 2019, Vietnam Airlines was closely looking at United States services and seemed very positive about a launch, but then, of course, COVID hit.
Vietnam Airlines has been the most badly affected of all the Vietnamese carriers. By February, it was losing as much as $10 million a week in revenue as COVID flight suspensions began to bite. Even into this year, it posted a loss of seven trillion dong ($308 million) for the first half, proving that things aren’t much easier for the airline 18 months down the line.
Nevertheless, the airline believes that the time is right to fly to the US. It’s already had some practice, operating repatriation flights with its Dreamliners in 2020. In 2021, it operated a series of 12 repatriation flights with its A350s and 787s, so it’s had an opportunity to scope out the routes. Whether the October launch goes ahead remains to be seen.