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Vietnam nears decision on long-haul fleet

Vietnam Airlines expects to make a decision on a new long-range passenger aircraft before the end of the year, but says that its final type selection will be largely contingent on the availability of either US or European export-credit financing.

The airline has narrowed its choice down to the Boeing 777-200IGW (increased gross weight) or Airbus' high-gross-weight A340-300E. According to Vietnam Airlines market planning director, Luong Hoai Nam, it needs two to three aircraft initially and additional numbers in the longer term.

Vietnam Airlines has relied heavily in the past on lease agreements to re-equip its fleet with Airbus A320s and Boeing 767-300ERs, but now wants to balance these with more direct purchases. "Our policy is to increase the number of aircraft purchases, but this depends on the availability of financing," explains Nam.

European export-credit agencies have extended limited support to Vietnam Airlines, such as the recent long-term lease of ten A320s by Aerostar of Singapore. The efforts of competing US manufacturers have been hampered in Vietnam by an absence of similar credit arrangements.

Since the start of the year, the airline has been in talks with the US Exim bank in an attempt to win financial support for the purchase of US-manufactured aircraft.

New long-range aircraft are needed by Vietnam Airlines to operate to the US West Coast and non-stop to Europe. It is keen to serve Los Angles and San Francisco, but is waiting for Hanoi and Washington to conclude a bilateral air-services agreement. In addition to its Dubai-Paris service, the airline also wants to fly to London and Frankfurt, provided that slots are available.

Longer-term plans call for the purchase of more A320s, or larger Airbus A321s, to serve more regional Asian destinations. "Every year we need one or two more aircraft to support our growth," says Nam. The airline has now almost completed its phase-out of Russian equipment, with its Yakovlev Yak-40s and Ilyushin Il-18s withdrawn from service and the number of operational Tupolev Tu- 134s reduced to three.

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