Does Việt Nam need more airports? The debate continues

October 26, 2020 - 09:30

The Government Office has asked the Ministry of Transport to consider a proposal by Ninh Thuận Province to use a military airport also for commercial purposes.

T2 Terminal of Nội Bài International Airport in Hà Nội. Photo

Compiled by Thiên Lý

The Government Office has asked the Ministry of Transport to consider a proposal by Ninh Thuận Province to use a military airport also for commercial purposes.

Thành Sơn Airport, also called Phan Rang Air Base and eight kilometers north-west of Phan Rang-Tháp Chàm City, now uses one only of its two runways, which can accommodate narrow-body aircraft like the Airbus A321.

Besides, the airport can meet flight safety standards and is capable of handling flights to and from Hà Nội, HCM City and Đà Nẵng.

Ninh Thuận authorities pointed out that the province has in recent years become a renewable energy hotspot and is likely to receive 2.5 million visitors a year, including many foreign experts working on power plants.

Many other provinces in the country have made similar demands in recent years to use military airports for civilian purposes or build new airports.

In September Hà Tĩnh had asked that the national airport network plan for 2021-30 should include one to be in the northern province.

Another northern province, Lào Cai, asked to build a US$246 million airport near Sapa town, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Việt Nam.

Hà Nội is readying an application for a second international airport.

According to the Airports Corporation of Việt Nam (ACV), the country now has 22 airports, nine of them international.

Its density of one airport every 16,000km is comparable with that of other countries in the region.

According to the Prime Minister’s Decision No 326/QĐ-TTg issued in February 2019, by 2030 there will be 28 airports, including 13 international.

The northern region will have 10 airports, five international (Nội Bài, Vân Đồn, Cát Bi, Thọ Xuân, and Vinh) and domestic (Lai Châu, Điện Biên, Sa Pa, Na San, and Đồng Hới) each.

The central region will have seven, three international (Phú Bài, Đà Nẵng, and Cam Ranh) and four domestic (Quảng Trị, Pleiku, Phù Cát, and Tuy Hòa) each.

There will be 10 airports in the southern region, four of them international (Tân Sơn Nhất, Cần Thơ, Phú Quốc, Long Thành) and the other six domestic (Buôn Ma Thuột, Liên Khương, Phan Thiết, Côn Đảo, Rạch Giá, and Cà Mau).

By 2030 there will be 280 million passengers and 6.8 million tonnes of cargo transported by air annually against a designed capacity of 308 million passengers and 7.5 million tonnes of cargo.

An aviation training systemto be set up is expected to meet the country’s training needs. Establishing and developing an aviation technology application, development and research center is also a part of the decision.

By 2030 aircraft parts and aviation equipment are expected to be designed and fabricated in the country.

But the question is whether Việt Nam needs so many airports.

And, opinion is divided on this.

For …..

The provinces asking for new airports or conversion of military facilities have said this would help overhaul the country’s aviation infrastructure, which is rather poor and acts as a drag on socio-economic development, especially tourism.

Some 80 per cent of foreign tourists come to Việt Nam by air but air connectivity to many localities is still very poor, causing visitors to waste time on travel.

The lack of airports, especially the big ones, has caused an overloading of existing ones in recent years.

In 2018, for instance, they served 105 million passengers whereas their combined designed capacity was only 75 million.

One of the biggest airports, HCM City’s Tân Sơn Nhất, had to handle 36 million passengers last year while its capacity is 25 million. It has been suffering from a severe overload for years now.

Development of more airports at localities that are important destinations is imperative for their development and that of the country, they said.

Dr Bùi Doãn Nề, general secretary of the Việt Nam Aviation Association, agreed with the provinces saying that with its 100 million population Việt Nam has very great travel demand and it is increasing quickly, especially with the country deeply integrating into the global economy.

The existing airport network is possibly not enough, and planning for its expansion should be done early to help the aviation industry develop methodically, he said. 

The development of airports would have a beneficial knock-on effect on other economic sectors too, he said.


Many aviation experts disagree with the provinces’ plans to build new airports.

They warned the country would have too many airports if their proposals are approved and only six out of the 22 operational airports were profitable until last year. Airport construction is an expensive business, something that many of the provinces could not afford yet, they pointed out.                                                                

The only profitable airports as of last year were Nội Bài in Hà Nội, Tân Sơn Nhất in HCM City, Đà Nẵng, Cam Ranh in Khánh Hòa Province, Liên Khương in Lâm Đồng Province, and Phú Bài in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province.

Dr Nguyễn Thiện Tống, former head of the HCMC Polytechnic University’s aviation technology faculty, said the provinces do not see the big picture and only think about local needs.

He pointed to the example of Quảng Trị Airport. 

It is proposed to be built in Gio Linh District, just 93km from Đồng Hới Airport in neighbouring Quảng Bình province and 88km from Phú Bài, meaning it is not strictly needed, he said.

Hà Nội should not build another airport for at least 30 years, he said.

Others agreed, suggesting provinces should focus on building small airports with short airways for small aircraft with less than 20 seats to serve special needs such as medical airlift, defence and security and tourism.

Đinh Việt Thắng, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Việt Nam (CAAV), said in an interview to Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper that detail airport planning of provinces must be made in accordance to the national airport network planning approved by the Prime Minister in Decision No 236.

The CAAV is drafting an airport master plan for 2021-30 with a vision to 2050 which would ensure that airports are allocated logically and meet the air transport demand of localities and the nation overall, he said. VNS