Vietnam Airlines is determined to launch services to the United States by the end of 2019, with more clarity expected soon about the country's US Federal Aviation Administration status.
The Skyteam carrier is assessing both the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350-1000 for the 7,098nm Ho Chi Minh City-Los Angeles route, says Vietnam Airlines executive vice president Le Hong Ha.
"The flight time is quite long, more than 16 hours," he says. "The sellable payload is very important to us, so we are studying what aircraft, based on performance, allows us to launch the route by the end of 2019."
The possible acquisition would entail four aircraft. Should the 777X be selected, the aircraft is only likely to be available for Vietnam Airlines in 2021.
Le made the remarks during a meeting with reporters at the company's headquarters in Hanoi.
Though Le did not specify the variant of 777X under consideration, the 777-8's range is 8,700nm while the larger 777-9's is 7,600nm. The A350-1000's range is listed at 8,000nm.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Vietnam Airlines, which operates 10 A355-900s, will see three additional examples delivered in 2018, and a final aircraft delivered in 2019. It also has a letter of intent for 12 A350-900s beyond this. Some of these could be converted to A350-1000s.
Should the airline not have the aircraft to launch direct services in late 2019, it has plans to launch the service with an A350-900, which will make a technical stop in Osaka, Japan.
Le also understands from the Vietnamese government that Vietnam will receive FAA Category 1 status by May 2018. At present, the country has no FAA category rating, precluding Vietnamese airlines from launching US services.
He adds that the passenger flow between the USA and Vietnam is one of the largest in the world without direct links. The market is now served through hubs in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China.
Despite challenges for Vietnamese citizens getting US visas, he expects the demand on the US side is sufficient to drive the route.