Safety and Regulations Still an Issue for Vietnamese Aviation

Blogs - Vietnam: Feb. 2, 2018

Vietnamese news agency VNExpress published several stories in January 2018, announcing that the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) was initiating plans to set up nonstop routes from Vietnam to the United States, eyeing San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular. The organisation, which oversees Vietnam’s domestic and international aviation industry, said that the expansion would likely lead to increased growth of tourism; plans are also in the works to increase available routes to China, Australia and Europe.

For aviation industry insider Pierre*, a French national with more than 30 years experience working as an engineer for Airbus, the decision was a no-brainer.

“Everybody knows that if you cannot go to the US, you cannot develop your business,” he said.

CAAV’s decision was not spur-of-the-moment: it followed a long history between Vietnam’s aviation authority and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States’ own aviation regulation committee. Since 2003, when Vietnam and the US signed an air transport agreement to allow airlines to operate direct flights between the two countries, Vietnam’s authorities have sought permission from the FAA to start scheduling routes to the US. Each year, their request has been denied, the FAA citing safety concerns. For many in Vietnam’s aviation history, 2018 is gearing up to be the year CAAV finally succeeds.

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Ups and Downs of Air Travel

The FAA’s decision would follow in the footsteps of other victories achieved by Vietnam’s aviation industry, most notably the adoption of the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) regulation to fly to Europe. This can be seen as an equivalent of the FAA’s Cat 1 (Category 1, a title that allows airlines to charter airlines to the North American country), and a sign that Vietnam could soon step up from its current position of Cat 2.

However, though Pierre asserts that Vietnam Airlines itself is an internationally competent airline, he said that for the FAA, it’s not just about the airline itself. “The FAA, [...] they don’t care about the airlines,” he said.

“They care about the authority. It makes sense, because these guys are the regulators. So if the system is not good, how can you guarantee that the operators are good?”

Qualifying for a Cat 1 from the FAA requires passing its strict International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program, a rigorous checklist connected with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Conducted yearly, IASA focuses on eight different criteria to determine a country’s fitness for international travel, including the country’s aviation legislation, personnel qualification and training and the effectiveness of safety concern resolutions. This adoption for Vietnam would be a major feather in the country’s cap.

Keeping in the Club

“It’s kind of a club,” Pierre said, referring to the FAA certification. “When you’re outside of the system, of course it’s not easy to get in, but still, you see, the possibility is there. But once you are inside, if you lose it, then you are in big trouble.”

Pierre references the recent troubles of Thailand. The country’s flagship airline, Thai Airways, originally developed nonstop services to New York and Los Angeles in 2005. In 2015, Thailand’s aviation industry was downgraded from a Cat 1 to a Cat 2, a blow that Pierre says has been hard on the country, both economically and in terms of its reputation. “It’ll take years for them to get it back.”

For CAAV, it isn’t so much an issue of investing in aviation equipment, but rather one of personnel. Pierre notes that investing in high-level training for aviation engineers is tricky.

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When the employees are well-trained, they often move to other countries, where they have the opportunity to earn 20 times as much salary as they receive in Vietnam.

In December 2017 it was announced that Vietnam Airlines, Vietnam Airlines Engineering Company and the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (USTH) had signed a cooperation agreement to create a Bachelor of Aviation Technology and a Masters of International Aviation Transport Management at the university.

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“I hope that they get [the certification],” Pierre said. “Here, when you ask people, they always say, ‘OK, this year we got it’. And it’s been like that for 10 years now.”

*Name has been changed

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