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Son La, Tuyen Quang, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan and Dong Nai have recently proposed to the Ministry of Transport to add five more airports to a draft plan for national airport network development in the 2021-2030 period, with vision until 2050.
Son La People’s Committee said its Moc Chau national tourism site is situated at an important entrance to both Son La and the northwest region, and acts as a major tourism center for all of the country. The province has proposed to add Moc Chau Airport to the agenda as the region has great potential for both agriculture and tourism.
“Due to its important position, potential and advantages, the planning and investment to develop Moc Chau Airport is necessary and would serve national defense and economic development,” a representative of Son La said.
Similarly, the Tuyen Quang People’s Committee has proposed to build Na Hang Airport in Na Hang District’s Nang Kha Commune, saying the region has a sparse population yet much land available, with stable, flat geographical features and is also located near the Na Hang-Lam Binh national tourism site and important traffic routes connected with neighboring northern highlands provinces like Ha Giang, Cao Bang and Bac Kan.
“If it is built, Na Hang Airport would not only serve travel demand among people of Tuyen Quang, but also those from neighboring localities,” provincial authorities said.
Kon Tum People’s Committee meanwhile proposed to add Mang Den Airport to the agenda, saying Kon Tum is located in a “developmental triangle” of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with a strategic position for defense and security, and is also an environmental protection site.
While it is good to satisfy travel demand, experts argued that, too many airports would be a waste as the demand would be spread among all of them and each cannot be used to its full capacity.
Nguyen Bac Tung, an expert, said that most domestic airports currently have a capacity of fewer than a million visitors a year, and many have not been able to reach their designed capacity, like the Van Don, Can Tho and Chu Lai airports. Airports in mountainous areas, with small populations, would also mean low numbers of visitors, he added.
Tung said Son La already operates Na San Airport, so there needs to be much consideration before adding Moc Chau Airport to the agenda. Right now, only major cities and economic centers would need two airports, he said.
Pham Van Toi, deputy head of the Vietnam Association on Aviation Science and Technology, said Tuyen Quang once had an airport, but due to low demand, it had been scrapped. For mountainous regions, receiving few visitors, it would be difficult to recoup investments from building an airport.
The investment required for an airport with a capacity of a million visitors a year would fall between VND3 trillion-5 trillion ($126.7 million-211.3 million), while around 300-500 hectares of land would need to be cleared, experts said.
Data from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam shows that before the Covid-19 pandemic, 9 out of 22 airports in Vietnam received fewer than a million visitors a year. For example, in 2019, Rach Gia Airport in the southern province of Kien Giang only received 32,800 visitors, Ca Mau airport, also in the south, 36,800 and Dien Bien, in the northern highlands, 57,300. These figures represent only a fraction of their designed capacity.
The fact that mountainous regions are not ideal for aviation is also something to be considered, said Tung. For example, the Na Hang region of Tuyen Quang or the Moc Chau region of Son La all have rocky mountains and foggy weather. It means that airports in those regions would need an extra 15 kilometers on each end of the runway to make sure wind and sky conditions are clear.
Vietnam currently has 22 civilian airports. It wants to have 28 airports by 2030, and 31 by 2050.
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