Vietnam Airlines to bring the A350 to India with flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

On June 06, 2022, speaking at the Routes Asia conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, the CEO of Vietnam Airlines announced flights between Vietnam and India starting mid-June. The flights opened for sale today with operations starting later this month. This is much faster than what VietJet took between announcement or repeated announcements over the years and actual start in 2019. 

While the announcement came out of the blue, it doesn’t surprise me that Vietnam Airlines is looking at India even as it mounts flights to North America, expands in the region and looks at increasing flights to Australia. 

The airline will operate thrice a week to Delhi from Hanoi and twice a week from Ho Chi Minh City. The surprise factor? The airline will operate these flights with the A350! This comes within weeks of both IndiGo and VietJet re-instating flights between India and Vietnam.

The airline 

Vietnam Airlines has become stronger in the last decade and half as it could focus on fleet renewal and expansion. A state owned enterprise has various arms which include MRO, an engineering company, catering services and a regional subsidiary. In 2010, it joined SkyTeam alliance.Headquartered in capital Hanoi, the airline has a strong presence at both Hanoi as well as Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – the largest city in Vietnam. 

Over the last few years, the airline has focused on its fleet which now comprises the A320 family and ATRs for the domestic and regional routes and A350 and B787s for the dense and/or long routes.

The airline website shows its fleet at 100 aircraft. This includes the A350-900 which are configured for 305 seats (two configurations) and the Boeing 787-9 which are configured for 274/311 seats. Both the aircraft have similar range and cargo carrying capacity. 

The India flights

To begin with the airline plans to operate thrice a week flights to New Delhi from Hanoi and twice a week from Ho Chi Minh City. The flights will be operated as per below timings 

VN5025 HAN1150 – 1425DEL

VN5024 DEL1600 – 2130HAN

VN5029 SGN1155 – 1500DEL

VN5028 DEL1600 – 2230SGN

Flights between Hanoi and Delhi will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while those between Ho Chi Minh City and Delhi will operate on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The A350s have two configurations with 29 Business, 45 premium economy and 231 economy class seats being one of  the configurations while the other being 29 Business, 36 Premium Economy and 240 Economy class seats.

Vietnam Airlines will be the third carrier to operate non-stop between India and Vietnam, a market which was traditionally one-stop with flights via Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Such one stops are going to put pressure on the respective hubs of Thai Airways, AirAsia Bhd, Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines.

With bilateral rights restricted to 28 frequencies per week from each side, the Vietnamese carriers are competing hard to corner a larger share of that frequency. For a network carrier like Vietnam Airlines, it also opens up a new opportunity – that of connecting traffic.

Hanoi the new Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has been undergoing a lot of changes on the socio-political front. One of the casualties of this could be (if it already isn’t) Cathay Pacific – the local airline. Cathay has had a good run in India, operating to Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai – along with its subsidiary Dragon Air, which has since merged with Cathay. 

The zero covid strategy, airline bans and a lot more is hampering Cathay’s return to normalcy. As it stays away from the market for a longer time, this presents an opportunity to Hanoi which lies less than 900kms west of Hong Kong. Geographically, very little deviation in terms of flight route.

However, for seamless two way connectivity – schedules will have to be reworked or additional frequencies need to be added from Hanoi. Geographically, Hanoi is well places to connect traffic to Korea, Philippines and Japan, apart from Australia.

Image created with help of gcmap.com

Possibility of a partnership with IndiGo ?

Vietnam Airlines’ annual report for 2019 mentions a possible partnership in India with IndiGo. What might have largely gone unnoticed until then might suddenly make a lot of sense when one looks at the three cornered contest. What happens if IndiGo and Vietnam Airlines codeshare? IndiGo has been taking a step forward with every new codeshare and filling up the void left by Jet Airways. The Vietnam Airlines – IndiGo codeshare could be on the lines of IndiGo’s partnership with Turkish or Qatar – where the airline itself flies to the hubs of these respective airlines but also carries traffic for them and from them.

This could be a game changer. At the same time, VietJet has also talked about partnership. Will we see Vietnam Airlines – a FSC, partner with IndiGo and VietJet – an LCC, partner with Air India or Vistara? Or will it be a VietJet – IndiGo partnership along with Vietnam Airlines – Air India / Vistara combo?

Network Thoughts

IndiGo was the first non-stop player in the market, followed by VietJet. With Vietnam Airlines entering the fray, the multi cornered contest will be interesting. While IndiGo tweaked its timings to connect better to its domestic and international flights from Kolkata – looking after Indian connections over timings in Vietnam, Vietnam airlines has looked at better timings at both ends but with day flights. VietJet on the other hand has opted for red eye flights. 

India – Vietnam trade is growing by leaps and bounds. Coupled with the line of credit, defence co-operation and a lot more happening between the two countries – there is a business case beyond tourism. Like other nations in ASEAN, Vietnam too is trying to de-risk by reducing dependence on China and its tourists and this is where the India story fits in. The pre-COVID numbers though were hovering between 70 to 120 passengers per day between Hanoi and Delhi and a little more from Ho Chi Minh city which makes as much capacity a challenge.

The direct flights will pinch the hubs in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore yet a sudden spurt in flights will not be profitable and it looks like there will be one rejig in the offing before things stabilize in the market. 

Vietnam – the land of Pho & Coffee is now connected like never before!

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4 thoughts on “Vietnam Airlines to bring the A350 to India with flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

      1. Thank you for the dates. Hope more and more airlines see the importance of the Indian air travel market and make a beeline to launching more flights.

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