According to travel industry reports, U.S. aviation authorities are expected to grant a FAA Category 1 flight rating to Vietnam in February or March. The move will then allow both U.S. and Vietnamese airlines to begin scheduled and chartered direct flights between the two countries.
Dinh Viet Thang, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), said that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed its safety assessments in December and was supposed to provide the results this month. According to Dinh, "Since the U.S. government was closed, we couldn’t receive the results, but we expect to have it soon."
Vietnamese airlines including state-owned Vietnam Airlines, budget airline Vietjet and new private airline Bamboo Airways have already expressed interest in opening direct flights between Vietnam and the U.S.
The direct route is expected to cater to the large demand for travel between both countries. Passengers travelling between Vietnam and the U.S. currently have to transit through different countries and territories such as China, Hong Kong, Japan or South Korea. Direct flights are expected to be very popular since they’ll save passengers time and expenses.
The FAA determines whether a country has a 1 or 2 rating depending on its safety assessment of the country's airlines. Vietnam has never held an FAA rating. Vietnam’s neighbor Thailand once had a Category 1 rating but it was downgraded to Category 1 and Thailand is seeking to regain the Category 1 rating this year.
The Vietnamese government had early last year approved plans to expand the network of national carriers to major markets including Australia, China, Europe and the U.S. Under it’s plan, Vietnam Airlines will go through with its proposal to open non-stop services to the U.S., starting with direct flights to San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Vietnam and the U.S. signed an air transport agreement in 2003 to allow airlines to operate direct flights between the two countries. In 2004, national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines sought permission from the U.S. to provide direct services. However, the request was denied because the CAAV did not meet safety supervision requirements set by the FAA.
Vietnam’s aviation industry has seen increasing demand in recent years. According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam welcomed 12.5 million air passengers last year, up 14.4% from 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, the country’s aviation traffic increased 16% on average each year. Tourism and airline traffic are projected to grow through 2030 as both domestic and international travelers continue to take to the skies.