Vietnam low-cost carrier VietJet Air will make a decision on whether to obtain widebody aircraft by the end of 2018.
The carrier, which operates narrowbody aircraft mainly on domestic routes, is considering three options, says carrier vice president Nguyen Thi Thuy Binh. These are the Boeing 787, Airbus A330neo, and the A350.
"We are near a conclusion," says Nguyen. "This year we will decide yes or no. We've taken a long time to study this model, and we're being very careful about the cost efficiencies of widebodies. This year we will make a conclusion."
For several years, VietJet executives have flirted with the idea of using widebodies to serve the Vietnamese diaspora in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
"Our advantage is that we understand Vietnamese [people], and we know what they expect," she says. "Countries where you have huge Vietnamese communities will be our future markets."
Vietnam Airlines is also considering the launch of services to Los Angeles, possibly as soon as 2019. The country has no FAA category rating, precluding Vietnamese airlines from launching US services, but category 1 is expected to be granted in May.
Nguyen declined to discuss how a VietJet widebody would be configured, but stressed that there are vast differences between narrow and widebody operations.
"We try to think about how we can provide a reasonable experience for the customer," she says. "How do we make them the most comfortable?"
In an August 2016 interview with Flight Airline Business, VietJet's chief executive held open the eventual possibility of long-haul, widebody operations, but said that the carrier was content to focus on narrowbodies.
Nguyen adds that the carrier has also looked at the A321LR as a way tapping markets farther afield.
"We are studying the range of this aircraft and it's very interesting," she says. The company is studying the cost effectiveness of the type.
Nguyen adds that the mainline VietJet Air carrier will take 15 new A320 family aircraft this year after taking 17 in 2017. Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that the carrier has 55 A320 family aircraft in service, with orders for 77. In addition, it has orders for 100 Boeing 737 Max 200s.
A major focus will continue to be international growth. In 2017, international traffic grew to 20% of total traffic, compared with 18% a year earlier. By 2020, VietJet aims for 35% of its traffic to be international.
Key markets for development include India and Japan, where VietJet presently has no services. It also aims to increase frequencies to existing North Asian destinations in South Korea, China, and Taiwan.
Apart from demand locally and abroad for LCC services to Vietnam, growth to North Asia is partially driven by the slot situation at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Nguyen says the carrier has added flights in the evening to North Asian destinations, and passengers generally do not mind late departures because they can get a full day in their destination upon arrival.
In addition, the carrier plans to have a new e-commerce platform implemented by the third quarter. This will be integrated with its passenger service system.
"Whatever passengers need, they can select: fares, tickets, seats, baggage, meals, hotels, insurance... even consumer goods," she says. "2018 is a year of innovation and connectivity."