Vietjet Air angles to be country-pair leader
Vietnamese no-frills airline Vietjet Air is poised to lead air connections between Thailand and Vietnam.
The fledgling low-cost carrier (LCC) group, along with its offshoot Thai Vietjet Air (TVJ), aims to establish up to 20 air routes between the country-pair over the next three years.
The group has recently ramped up its Thailand-Vietnam links to six routes -- the most of any airline.
This month marks the start of the Vietjet group's aggressive expansion of its Thailand-Vietnam connectivity with the launch of three routes.
On Dec 12, the parent airline inaugurated Chiang Mai-Ho Chi Minh City, and on Dec 15 launched its maiden flight between Phuket and Ho Chi Minh City, with both routes served by four flights a week.
On Dec 18, subsidiary TVJ commenced regular service from Bangkok to Dalat, also with four flights a week.
TVJ chief executive Nguyen Thi Thuy Binh revealed the strategic target to reflect the group's view of robust traffic demand developing between the countries.
Vietjet Air and TVJ aim to jointly pursue Thailand-Vietnam route expansion through the pair's code-share arrangement.
That arrangement offers the airlines the flexibility and capacity to increase connectivity between the two countries.
Ms Binh also said TVJ aims to expand its international service out of Bangkok to neighbouring Asean states and then to southern China in the coming years, indicating that the domestic Thai network might not see much growth.
TVJ now operates four Thai domestic routes: Bangkok-Phuket, Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Chiang Rai and Phuket-Chiang Rai.
TVJ also offers charter flights between Thailand and Vietnam.
Ramping up connectivity between Thailand and Vietnam is TVJ's top priority, with regular services from Bangkok to Phu Quoc island, Cam Ranh and Danang set to be launched next year.
In line with its growing network plan, TVJ aims to increase its fleet of Airbus A320 jets from four at present to 10 in 2018, before adding 10 more each year in 2019 and 2020, Ms Binh said.
As a group, Vietjet boasts a fleet of 48 aircraft, including A320s and A321s, and operates 350 flights each day.
The group has already carried 50 million passengers and opened 78 routes in Vietnam and across the region to international destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Looking ahead, the airline plans to expand its network across the Asia-Pacific region.
To that end, Vietjet has signed agreements with the world's leading aircraft manufacturers to purchase more modern planes.
Thai-registered TVJ has become the first international airline to operate a regular flight to Dalat, the capital of Lam Dong province in the central highlands, 1,500 metres above sea level and boasting thick pine forests and verdant valleys.
It is TVJ's first relaunch of international air services after successfully recertifying with Thailand's aviation authority in November, allowing it to resume international flights from its Bangkok base.
TVJ was earlier forced by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) ban to transfer the right to operate the Bangkok-Hai Phong route to its parent airline.
TVJ was the 12th Thai-registered airline to get its air operator certificate reissued by the CAAT, in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.
TVJ has high expectations for the newly launched Bangkok-Dalat route, expecting to boost its load factor to more than 85%, up from 67% recorded on the first flight.
Ms Binh said there is a good chance of reaching daily frequencies by the winter of 2019, with the volume of passengers carried rising three times over the next two years.
With Dalat becoming increasingly popular among Thai tourists, TVJ expects 30% of its passengers on the route to be Thai nationals, 20% of them Vietnamese and the rest other nationalities.
Meanwhile, Pham S, deputy chairman of the people's committee of Lam Dong province, said there has been a "dramatic" increase in Thai tourist arrivals to Dalat and he expects this trend to continue in the coming years.
In 2016, the numbers of Thai visitors to Dalat jumped 20% from the previous year to more than 10,000.
The province expects total tourists to Dalat, both foreign and domestic, to increase from 6 million this year to 10 million in 2020.
International arrivals to Dalat are expected to double from 250,000 this year to 500,000 in 2020, Mr S said.
Major international arrivals are from Japan, South Korea, China and Russia, with the province featuring more prominently on Vietnam's tourist map.
The province is strengthening its infrastructure to accommodate the surge in international arrivals, Mr S said.