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Vietnam Airports: Foreign Investors Guide 2024

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Vietnam’s airports, much like Vietnam’s seaports, have been a critical component in logistics  in Vietnam and subsequently in Vietnam’s economic development. They are the main entry point for most foreign investors, they facilitate millions of dollars of trade via air freight every day, and they have commanded huge amounts of public investment spurring the country’s economic growth.

But Vietnam’s key airports are near, if not over capacity, and expansions are sorely needed. This, however, will take huge amounts of money as well as expertise and support. With this in mind, this guide runs through Vietnam airports, including their needs and development plans.

Organisational structure of airports in Vietnam

Ministry of Transport of Vietnam

Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport–or MoT–is the top-level, overarching, government body responsible for aviation in Vietnam. It is responsible for reporting on the development of Vietnam’s aviation industry to the National Assembly and manages the broad-strokes planning and development of the sector.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam–or the CAAV–falls under the purview of the MoT. It handles the finer details of aviation planning and development. For example, it develops draft legislation and regulations, establishes standards, and is responsible for overseeing their implementation.

Airports Corporation of Vietnam

The Airports Corporate of Vietnam–or the ACV–is a joint stock company charged with overseeing investment in, and construction, management, and operation of, airports in Vietnam.  The Government of Vietnam is the majority stakeholder in the enterprise with 95.4 percent of the shares. The remaining 4.6 percent is held by private investors with shares traded on Vietnam’s Unlisted Public Companies stock exchange.

Main Vietnam airports

Vietnam currently has 21 airports with nine taking international flights and the other 12 taking domestic flights only. Collectively these airports service millions of travellers each year and manage thousands of tons of freight. However, the biggest and most utilised airports are in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Danang.

Ho Chi Minh City airport

Ho Chi Minh City’s airport is the Tan Son Nhat International Airport. This is Vietnam’s busiest airport but also one of its most overcrowded. Built for 28 million visitors a year it welcomed 34 million arrivals in 2022. That said, construction of a second airport servicing Ho Chi Minh City is currently underway in Long Thanh, in neighbouring Dong Nai province, about 40 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City. 

The specifications for the Long Thanh International Airport are outlined in Decision 1777/QD-TTg. These include a passenger terminal with a capacity for 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of freight a year. This will significantly expand the city’s capacity for arrivals by air and should reduce pressure on existing infrastructure.

Not everyone, however, is excited. 

Vietnam’s national carrier, Vietnam Airlines, has said that it would prefer to stay at Tan Son Nhat when the Long Thanh airport is completed. It has said that airport transfers will be more challenging–currently, it’s possible to walk from the domestic to the international terminal at Tan Son Nhat–and that it does not want to pay the increased costs of managing ground operations at two airports. It’s not clear at this point whether or not Vietnam Airlines will get its way.

Hanoi

Noi Bai International Airport is Vietnam’s second biggest airport and services the country’s capital. It’s about 35 kilometres from the city centre to the north. The airport has been operational since 1978 but has seen a number of upgrades since then.

Of note, Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport was built for 25 million visitors a year but was estimated to have finished 2023 with 30 million arrivals–both domestic and foreign. 

With overcrowding becoming a key challenge for Vietnam’s air travellers, an expansion of Noi Bai’s international terminal is reportedly underway. The project is estimated to cost VND 5 trillion or US$196.5 million, will cover 6 hectares, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2025. The expansion should increase the terminal’s capacity from 10 million to 15 million passengers a year.

Danang

The Danang International Airport is Vietnam’s third biggest airport. The coastal city has become a popular holiday destination both domestically and abroad. As such, the bulk of the passengers arriving in the city do so for tourism purposes.

Danang airport has a capacity of about 10 million passengers a year although it welcomed 15.5 million arrivals in 2019–like the airports in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Danang is also operating well over capacity. There has been some discussion around adding another domestic terminal but nothing has been confirmed as yet.

Investing in airports in Vietnam

Foreign investors in airports or airport businesses in Vietnam can only do so through a joint venture with a Vietnamese partner. In said partnership, they cannot own more than a 30 percent share. This is detailed in Decree 89/2019/ND-CP.

See also: Vietnam’s Foreign Ownership Limits: Quick Guide 2024 

Building airports in Vietnam

The Government of Vietnam is almost always the main investor in airport projects in Vietnam with the ACV responsible for the overall development and management of the airport. That said, the construction work is generally open to bidding from firms from around the world.

Construction of the Long Thanh Airport passenger terminal, which is the biggest part of the project, is being led by Turkey’s IC Ictas along with a consortium of local Vietnamese construction firms. These include Ricons, Newtecons, and Vinaconex.

Of note, in the case of Long Thanh, selecting a construction firm did not go particularly smoothly. 

The first tender package, announced in December of 2022, was cancelled after the ACV received just one bid from a local consortium which failed to meet the bidding criteria. At the time, it was reported that bidders had to have completed construction of an airport terminal or a special structure valued at more than VND 14,093 billion or $601 million which was a sizable requirement that few bidders could meet.

Furthermore, the timeframe allocated to complete the project was also cited as a key concern. Initially, this was set at 33 months, however, after failing to attract any bids, this was extended.

Of note, whereas the first tender was put out in September of 2022 a bidder was not chosen until August of 2023, almost a full 12 months later. The project is supposed to be completed by November of 2026.

What’s next?

Vietnam’s airports have become incredibly important to the country’s economic development but the biggest of them are currently overcrowded and in need of expansion. Though direct investment in airports in Vietnam is limited to 30 percent there are a broad range of ancillary services foreign firms can invest in and develop.

Furthermore, many of Vietnam’s airport projects are put to tender, and with local firms often lacking the experience necessary to meet bidding requirements, foreign construction firms often have a distinct advantage.

These projects, however, are often few and far between and requirements and planning can often change on a dime.  In this light, foreign investors interested in airport development in Vietnam can best keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the sector by subscribing to the-shiv.

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