Surging Viet economy buoys flag carrier

While the blue-skies of 2007 have lifted the fortunes of Vietnam Airlines, growing competition in its home market, a critical shortage of pilots and planes may signal turbulence ahead.

When 2007 comes to a close, Vietnam Airlines will have surely have clocked in another rosy year. In the first nine months, its 47,297 domestic and international flights have carried over 5.8 million passengers, achieving 76 per cent of the year’s target, and over 82,000 tonnes of cargo (an increase of 5.6 percent year-on-year).

Not only did its pretax profits surge to US$18.8 million – nearly matching the whole profit of US$19 million for the full year, last year, but its on-time performance rate increased to 82 per cent. But cloudy skies may be liking just ahead.

As the airline pushes ahead with its aggressive expansion plans, its top management could not be busier. In Hanoi, Vietnam Airlines’ deputy general director Pham Ngoc Minh is now also the chairman of the newly-established Vietnam Aircraft Leasing Company.

On his desk are also the plans for equitization of the carrier, slated to be realised some time in 2008. With a registered capital of 5.74 trillion Vietnamese dong (US$358.75 million) the carriers will go public once its 39 affiliates are collected together under the form of a new holding company.

Add to this the impending move to full e-ticket operations and a plan for fi ve weekly direct flights to the US West Coast ¨C Los Angeles ¨C using 777- 200ERs, to be started by late 2008, and that makes Pham a very difficult man to get a hold of.