Vietnam Airlines will launch flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to London's Gatwick Airport this winter, the first non-stop services between the two countries, the airport said.

There will be two flights each week between both Vietnamese cities and Gatwick, operated by a 309-seat Boeing 777-200ER in business, premium economy and economy classes. Services will start on 9 December.

The new services were "a breakthrough in our European route strategy", said airline chief executive Pham Ngoc Minh. The carrier has already hinted that frequencies could increase - perhaps to as many as four flights weekly from each of the Vietnamese cities.

The carrier aims to tap into Vietnam's growth as both a tourism destination and manufacturing base. Last year around 5 million leisure travellers visited the Asian nation, 90,000 of them from the UK, while 2010 saw some $11 billion in inward investment in Vietnam.

The new routes provide "a real opportunity to UK business to build and develop trading links in South East Asian markets", said Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news