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What the Future Holds for Saigon's Overcrowded Tan Son Nhat Airport

Officials met in Hanoi and Saigon to discuss competing plans to increase service capacity at the overwhelmed Tan Son Nhat Airport. The debates include whether the expansion should be to the north or south of the current airport and if it should include a new runway.

France’s ADP Ingénierie (ADPi), a company specializing in airport architecture and engineering, met with the Ministry of Transport in Hanoi on Tuesday to present their plan to expand southward, according to Tuoi Tre. The expansion would involve renovating current taxiways and aircraft stands and building a new terminal in what is now a dense urban area. It would raise capacity to over 50 million passengers and 20 tons of cargo by 2025. VietnamNet reports that the company estimates the plan would cost over VND30 trillion (US$1.3 billion), excluding site clearance costs.

ADPi’s plan does not call for construction of a new runway since it argues it would have too large of an environmental impact as well as contribute to noise pollution and already problematic drainage issues. It would also be too costly, with site clearance and relocation for thousands of households alone reaching VND45 trillion (US$1.98 billion). They further argue it is unnecessary considering the looming plans for Long Thanh Airport in Dong Nai Province, which despite delays is scheduled for completion by 2025. Their plan for the Tan Son Nhat expansion would eventually involve northward expansion to construct additional cargo terminals, maintenance facilities, offices and other logistical services.

The plan also addresses current congestion surrounding the airport. They would build a new link road to be used only by vehicles entering and exiting the airport. The link road is just one idea amongst others previously proposed, including a monorail, overpass and cable car.

The defense ministry’s Airport Design and Construction Company (ADCC), last week also presented a plan to expand southward. It would include new terminals, parking areas, and technical facilities. It would require 24 hectares of land currently controlled by the defense ministry and would cost VND19 trillion (US$830 million). Once completed within 2-3 years, it would increase airport capacity to 43-45 million passengers per year and not involve the construction of a third runway either.

Opponents of the southward expansion claim the traffic constraints and relocation costs are too great. Last week in Saigon, officials proposed two separate plans to Party Chief Nguyen Thien Nhan. Both suggest using land north of the current airport where approximately 157 hectares of land, including a golf course, is controlled by the defense ministry.

One plan would involve building two more terminals to raise the airport’s capacity to 55 million passengers by 2022. The second plan adds construction of a third runway and expansion of a fourth terminal by 2025 to bring the airport’s capacity to 70 million passengers.

Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Thien Tong, an aviation engineering expert, explained: “Our options not only take into account the airport expansion as a separate project, but also place it in the context of the surrounding traffic infrastructure and how the airport would help affect an entire urban area around it.”

Regardless of what plan is decided upon, it is clear that something must be done. The airport’s two terminals are designed to only service 25 million annual travelers, but capacity currently rests at 32 million. It is only going to get busier - Vietnam’s airline market is growing at the third-fastest pace in the Asia-Pacific region, and all domestic airlines are planning fleet expansions. In addition to overcrowding, the airport also suffers from occasional closing due to flooding and lightning.

The Long Thanh Airport will in theory ease many of the issues, but there are no assurances as to when it will actually be finished.  Despite approval by the National Assembly two years ago, no feasibility studies have been conducted. Tong added, “No one can guarantee that Long Thanh Airport will go into operation by 2025.”

[Photo via Bao Thanh Nien


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- Vietnam Aviation Industry Plans to Have 28 Functional Airports by 2030


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