New SkyTeam member Vietnam Airlines expects to begin codesharing with Delta Air Lines next month and hopes to finally be able to launch its own services to the US in early 2011.
Vietnam Airlines first planned to launch services to the US in 2007, starting with Boeing 777-200ER flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles. But the carrier has since been unable to launch the service because Vietnam is not yet part of the FAA's international aviation safety assessment (IASA) programme.
Vietnam Airlines CEO Pham Ngoc Minh says the carrier is ready to begin serving the US as soon as Vietnamese aviation authorities prove to the FAA they are in compliance with IASA category 1 standards. Foreign carriers are unable to add any services to the US unless their home country is in category 1.
Minh says the Vietnamese government "revised their plan a few times" for meeting category 1 requirements but "the latest I understand is early next year they can qualify. As soon as they qualify with category 1 we will perform our flight. The market is there and we have no problem with our operation or marketing side".
Vietnam Airlines has been serving the US since 2006 via a codeshare with Oneworld member American Airlines. Earlier this year Vietnam Airlines forged a codeshare agreement with Delta Air Lines, which envisions its passengers switching between Delta- and Vietnam-operated flights in Japan.
Minh says Vietnam will begin codesharing with Delta in July and at the same time end its codeshare with American. The transition from American to Delta follows Vietnam formally joining SkyTeam earlier this month.
"Today the traffic between USA and Vietnam is almost over 400,000 passengers per year. I think the codeshare arrangement between Delta and Vietnam Airlines is not yet sufficient to satisfy the demand. I think both sides - US and Vietnamese carriers - need to perform more direct flights between the two countries," Minh told ATI on the sidelines of this week' SkyTeam meeting in New York.
Currently only United Airlines, which serves Ho Chi Minh from San Francisco with a stop in Hong Kong, operates direct flights between the two countries. Minh believes there is enough demand for Delta to launch its own direct flights to Vietnam but for now he says Delta is only interested in serving Vietnam via a codeshare on Vietnam Airlines-operated Japan-Vietnam flights. He says Delta is also interested in placing its code on Vietnam Airlines' direct flights to the US when it finally is able to launch such services.
"Of course a direct flight needs a codeshare partner. We're not thinking we're going to operate alone. We are now a member of an alliance. It should be a common interest," he says.