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Bamboo Airways Eyes Flights to U.S.
Amid reports of Vietnam Airlines’ plans to launch flights to the United States, Bamboo Airways Chairman Trinh Van Quyet expressed his interest in routes to the U.S., according to Reuters. The news stems from the Vietnamese carrier’s plans to launch an initial public offering in the U.S., raising up to $200 million for the airline and helping it access a broad investor base in the country.
Quyet expressed his intentions to launch and relaunch international flights to the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Japan, after COVID-19 market conditions have improved.
“We will start conducting chartered flights to the U.S. in July and target the launch of non-stop commercial flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco in September, with an initial frequency of three flights per week,” he said.
Additionally, the hybrid low-cost carrier will grow its fleet by 25%, from 30 aircraft to 40 aircraft in the months ahead. The intake of new aircraft includes two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, increasing its long-haul fleet to a total of five aircraft.
Initial charter flights to the U.S., probably serving as repatriation flights, would mainly serve Vietnamese citizens who want to return home, as entry to Vietnam is barred for everyone, except for essential business or government travel. Also, it will serve essential travel needs between the two countries, like for Vietnamese students and relatives returning to the U.S.
In November 2020, Bamboo Airways applied for rights to fly 12 charter or repatriation flights to the U.S, approved by the Department of Transportation. These charter rights expire by November 2021. Also, the airline doesn’t have a foreign carrier permit to the U.S. unlike competitor Vietnam Airlines, which has rights to fly to Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Dallas with possible intermediate stops in Taipei, Taiwan, Osaka, Japan and Nagoya, Japan.
At the time, in a Facebook post, the airline claimed that it would launch flights in late 2020 or early 2021 to the U.S., mentioning Los Angeles and San Francisco as possible destinations. These flights never materialized.
If plans go through, Bamboo Airways will utilize the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the route. Its sole long-haul aircraft has two seating configurations, one featuring 294 seats with 26 business class seats, 21 premium economy seats and 247 economy seats, and another featuring 292 seats with 30 business class seats, 36 premium economy seats and 226 economy seats.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bamboo Airways mulled leasing Airbus A380s to fly on routes to the U.S.. Furthermore, the Vietnamese hybrid low-cost airline considered an order for 12 Boeing 777X for long-haul expansion, according to its chairman Trinh Van Quyet last year.
Pre-pandemic, the airline’s route network consisted of a sizable domestic route network and flights to Japan, South Korea and Tapei. Additionally, the airline planned the launch of flights to Prague, Czech Republic and Munich, Germany in 2020, postponed due to COVID-19.
In March 2021, Bamboo Airways obtained rights to fly to London Heathrow six times a week, three times a week from Hanoi and three times a week from Ho Chi Minh City. The airline can commence these flights as soon as May, though it is unlikely until COVID-19 market conditions improve.
Vietnam Airlines’ Plans
As mentioned above, the Vietnam Airlines Board of Directors approved a plan to launch flights to the U.S. In its “first stage,” the flag carrier will launch repatriation flights from Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco, pending U.S. Department of Transportation approval. Tentatively, these flights are slated for a June launch. Meanwhile, the airline expects commercial flights to start in 2022, pending a review of market conditions by then.
If both airlines proceed with their plans, they will likely face profitability issues. Due to the low-yielding nature and high flight range of the route, Vietnam Airlines CEO, Doung Tri Thanh, expects an average annual loss of $30 million for the first five years of operation, if a flight to the U.S. materializes.
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