Vietnam Airlines believes the overhaul of its entire fleet with new generation aircraft by the middle of the next decade will help support its aggressive growth plans which now envisage a fleet of around 150 aircraft by 2020.

The SkyTeam-bound carrier currently operates a fleet of 58 aircraft; a mix of Fokker 70s, ATR 72-200/500s, Airbus A320/A321s, A330s and Boeing 777s. In line with the strong recent and anticipated long-term growth of Vietnam and the neighbouring region, the carrier has previously said it hopes to grow its fleet to reach 110 by 2020.

But speaking to ATI during an interview at the carrier's Paris office, Vietnam Airlines president and chief executive Pham Ngoc Minh said the carrier now expects its fleet to nearly reach that size by 2015. "By 2015 it will be 107, by 2020, it will be around 150," he says.

"We believe that Vietnam Airlines will grow and will become a leading carrier in Southeast Asia," Minh says, noting the carrier is aiming to improve its product to help raise its competitiveness with other major network carriers in the surrounding regions.

"One of the policies to build up our competitiveness is the fleet programme. Vietnam Airlines wants to renew its fleet as soon as possible. By 2015/16, the entire Vietnam Airlines fleet will be new generation aircraft."

The latest part of this renewal is about to begin, as this May it begins replacing its ATR 72-200s with recently ordered -500 models. These will join the ATR 72-500s it already operates. "We are starting from May 2009 and we will complete it by May 2010. By the end of 2010, Vietnam Airlines will have a new fleet of 14 ATR 72-500s," he says.

"We have the same programme to renew the Airbus fleet. This programme will be completed by 2013, by then we have no more old [narrowbody] aircraft." The carrier has ten A320s in the fleet - dating back to 1996/97 - alongside 14 newer A321s and 24 more A321s on order. It has also just secured government authority to acquire 10 more A321s from Airbus and Minh, pointing to the good timing to negotiate for new aircraft, does not rule out taking more aircraft if it can strike the right deal.

On the long-haul, the carrier already has commitments in place for Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s. "With the A330 and Boeing 777, we start our replacement process around 2013 and we hope to complete it by 2016," he says.

Despite the current tough market conditions, Minh says the growth in the region together with the boost SkyTeam membership will give it, means there will be plenty of opportunities to deploy the new aircraft.

"Vietnam as a single market will by 2020 have a population of 110 million. With open skies [in the surrounding area], it's a market of 130-150 million. Vietnam Airlines has enough room to put its fleet. More than this we can extend our market in south-east and north-east Asia. And with membership of SkyTeam we hope Vietnam will become a gateway to south-east Asia and I don't think 150 aircraft by 2020 is enough for a gateway," he says.

"My main challenge is how we can implement our aggressive plan for growth in a feasible way, not doing too much far, but at the same time I have to speed up this process."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news