Fast-expanding Vietnam Airlines has set an informal target to double its fleet to 70 aircraft by 2010, as it forecasts continuing strong traffic growth, writes Nicholas Ionides.

The airline said last week that it expects its fleet of 34 aircraft to increase to 70 at the end of the decade. A senior airline executive confirms the target, but says it is only a "rough plan" that is subject to change. He adds that the plan calls for a fleet of around 50 aircraft by 2005. This may include Vietnam Airlines' first dedicated freighters.

Vietnam Airlines' fleet now comprises four Boeing 777-200ERs, seven Boeing 767-300s, 10 Airbus A320s, three Airbus A321s, eight ATR 72s and two Fokker 70s.

The carrier has firm orders for two more 777s and five A321s. In August it issued tenders for leases on two more 777s, as well as on one more ATR 72 and another A321.

The carrier is also considering ultra-long-range aircraft for use on non-stop services to the US West Coast. Vietnam and the USA signed an air-services agreement in December allowing for flights between the two countries. Vietnam Airlines says it plans to introduce one-stop services to San Francisco early in 2005.

Vietnam Airlines carried 4.05 million passengers in 2003, representing an increase of just 1% on the 2002 figure - well below the annual 30% increase the carrier recorded in the early 1990s and the annual 15% increase since then.

The carrier was hurt in 2003 by the outbreak of the SARS virus between March and July, but in recent months has reported a return to strong growth. The airline says it expects to carry around 5 million passengers over the next 12 months, which would represent a year-on-year increase of more than 20%.

Source: Flight International