Last month the Ministry of Transport (MoT) proposed that the government restarts international commercial flights to priority areas such as Guangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo, Taiwan, Vientiane, and Phnom Penh. If approved, the ministry will work with partners to discuss specific conditions of passenger transport between each side.

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The proposal involved semi-regular flights made across six routes – Guangzhou-Danang, Tokyo-Hanoi, Seoul-Hanoi, Taipei-Ho Chi Minh City, Vientiane-Quang Ninh, and Phnom Penh-Can Tho – based on the geographical suitability and the ability to allocate quarantine.

Passengers traveling on these flights would require a valid visa and must carry out quarantine according to the regulations upon entry. It is hoped that around 2,500-3,000 passengers would enter Vietnam on these flights each week, in addition to flights to repatriate citizens and charter flights carrying experts from other locations around the world.

According to information from the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV), Vietnam Airlines is the only group designated to conduct international flights in the first phase with a frequency of one flight per week per destination. After the pandemic is under control and the frequency of flights and number of routes increases, the CAAV will appoint other airlines to participate.

Le Tuan Anh, Deputy Minister of Transport, said that most countries have responded positively to the proposal to reopen routes of Vietnam, although China has yet to issue an official response despite numerous requests.

Careful preparations

Although no decision has yet been made, Vietnamese Airlines confirmed that it has been preparing resources for the recovery of international flights for months.

In June and July, the group regularly operated one-way passenger routes from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Seoul in South Korea with a total of five flights per week in June and 14 weekly flights since July.

At the end of July, the airline continued to put into operation regular flight routes from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Germany. Vietnam Airlines has also prepared a flight to Europe by the end of 2020 and the US in 2021 depending on the pandemic situation.

“Our operation of one-way flights from Vietnam to other countries is mainly aimed at meeting the needs of passengers who need to travel abroad with reasons such as continuing to work, study, or take care of relatives,” a Vietnam Airlines spokesperson said.

Representatives of Bamboo Airways confirmed that it is also ready to carry out international flights with the permission of the Vietnamese government and related countries. The destinations that the airline targets in order of priority are China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, European nations likes the Czech Republic and Germany, and North America. Vietjet is also planning under the government’s direction and hopes to soon resume commercial flights to countries with good control of the pandemic.

In the opposite direction, many international airlines have begun deploying plans to resume flights to Vietnam, albeit mostly only for carrying goods in and out of the country. In June and July, foreign airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, China Airlines, and Korean Air looked to re-exploit international routes to and from Vietnam. Recently, All Nippon Airways also announced plans to implement a route connecting Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City.

Safety the top priority

It is undeniable that international flights bring the majority of revenues for Vietnamese airlines. However, according to many experts reopening international routes is necessary but risky, and trade effects are not high in the context of the complicated pandemic situation worldwide.

The biggest priority of Vietnam since the outbreak began is to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. Therefore, says Phan Le Binh, transportation expert at the Japan International Cooperation Agency, even if international routes return, quarantine must always be the top priority. “The best preventative measure is still to isolate for 14 days.

All international passengers traveling to Vietnam will be required to do this. This of course will be a significant barrier for tourists who want to visit Vietnam,” he said.

A representative of the CAAV said that some countries are attempting to apply a “travel bubble” model – moving within or creating a corridor to move between groups of safe countries.

A number of countries and territories have controlled the spread of COVID-19 such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Australia, and New Zealand, which are gradually reopening travel routes together.

The models to utilize such a bubble can be studied by Vietnam, but would only allow guests to travel directly within the region and not yet allow transfer of passengers from third countries outside the region, to ensure control of visitor resources. In addition, passengers on flights on arrival must be separated in their families for 14 days, registered with the government, or be sent to a government-designated accommodation facility with a fee. Home self-isolation, strictly controlled by technology, may also be an option.

The MoT admitted that the reopening of international commercial flights would encounter many difficulties. Currently, both Tan Son Nhat and Noi Bai airports are being renovated, lowering the operational capacity at each airport to only 60-70 per cent.

In addition, the Ministry of Health has not yet provided detailed guidance on the medical quarantine process for visitors from abroad, while there is also a necessity for creation of documents of the negotiation process with foreign aviation partners on pandemic prevention and control during flights.

At the request of the MoT, local airlines have announced cancellation of flights from Danang from July 28 to the end of August 11. International flights bringing Vietnamese citizens back home and foreign experts to Vietnam that were expected to land at Danang’s airport were also forced to divert to other airports from July 24.

For the railway industry, the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City route via Danang is not allowed to receive passengers and can only stop at the central city for technical operations. All intercity bus services, taxis, and contract vehicles in Danang are also suspended, except for special cases such as carrying specialists, workers, and patients. The same ban applies to maritime passenger vessels.

Transport enterprises announced the postponement, exchange, and free return of tickets for passengers who have booked from now until mid-August.

The current measures were taken in the context of Danang’s renewed social distancing after the detection of a new case in the community on July 24, ending nearly 100 days in Vietnam without community infections.

By Thai An @ Vietnam Investment Review