By Winston Shek
Bamboo Airways to Operate First US Flights via San Francisco
Vietnam-based Bamboo Airways will operate its first flight to the U.S. on July 15, according to flight schedule data from theaeronetwork. Its first flight is a charter from Hanoi to San Francisco, arriving at the airport at 8:20 p.m. The Vietnamese low-cost carrier will depart San Francisco the following day at 3:20 p.m, with a nonstop flight returning to Hanoi.
Bamboo Airways will utilize the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the charter flight. Its long-haul aircraft showcases two seating configurations, one featuring 294 seats with 26 business class seats, 21 premium economy seats and 247 economy seats, and another featuring 292 seats with 30 business class seats, 36 premium economy seats and 226 economy seats.
While the reason and customer for these flights are not yet known, these charters are likely serving as repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens who want to return home, as non-essential travel to Vietnam is barred for everyone. Also, it will service essential travel needs between the two countries, like Vietnamese students and relatives returning to the U.S.
During the summer, Vietnam Airlines has reinitiated repatriation efforts to the U.S., with a flight to Washington’s Dulles in June. Also, the Vietnamese flag carrier conducted a repatriation flight to Dallas in July, the first flight by Vietnam Airlines to the airport. Similar to Bamboo Airways, the airline utilized its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for these flights, a pivot from the usage of the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and Airbus A350-900 XWB in 2020.
In April, Bamboo Airways Chairman Trinh Van Quyet hinted at the start of charter flights to the U.S. in July.
“We will start conducting chartered flights to the U.S in July and target the launch of nonstop commercial flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco in September, with an initial frequency of three flights per week,” he said.
In previous months, Bamboo Airways has revealed its plans for a permanent nonstop connection to the U.S. For example, the low-cost carrier is hiring a representative base in San Francisco, hiring multiple positions like a station manager and a financial manager.
Additionally, in a recent U.S. Department of Transportation filing, Bamboo Airways signaled its intentions to fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles and San Francisco nonstop in the third quarter of 2021. The low-cost carrier filed for rights to fly to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Dallas, with possible intermediate stops in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan, and rights to continue flights to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. All of these points were selected by the Vietnamese government, with no fifth-freedom rights allowed between the U.S. and Japan.
Furthermore, Bamboo Airways finalized a preliminary schedule for the flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles, after receiving approval for its proposed flight timings at the two slot-facilitated airports. Its preliminary schedule at San Francisco includes an arrival at 10 a.m. and a departure at 1 p.m., allowing a departure from Ho Chi Minh City in the morning and an arrival into Ho Chi Minh City in the evening. Meanwhile, its preliminary schedule to Los Angeles includes an arrival at 9:30 a.m. and a departure at 12:30 p.m., allowing for similar departure and arrival times from and to Ho Chi Minh City.
If Bamboo Airways goes through with its service plans, the airline intends to codeshare with a “major” U.S. carrier. If the Department of Transportation approves its foreign carrier permit, the Hanoi-based carrier has rights to codeshare to 25 destinations in the U.S.: Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Honolulu; Houston; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; New York; Newark, N.J.; Oklahoma City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Washington D.C. and Wichita, Kan.
According to RoutesOnline, Sabre data indicates that the origin and destination, often has O&D, traffic from Vietnam to the U.S. totaled 1.77 million passengers in 2019, with 300,300 passengers on the Ho Chi Minh to Los Angeles route and 198,000 passengers on the Ho Chi Minh to San Francisco route.
Amid the high demand between the two countries, there are concerns over profitability due to the length of the flight and the low-yielding nature of the market. In a 2019 filing, Vietnam Airlines posted that it expected first-year losses of $54 million on a hypothetical Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles route.
Similarly, in 2018, Vietnam Airlines CEO Doung Tri Thanh said, “Vietnam Airlines could face an average annual loss of $30 million in the first five years of operation if we open a direct route to the U.S.”