By Winston Shek
Bamboo Airways Flies Inaugural Flight to the United States
Bamboo Airways operated its first flight to the United States on September 23, 2021, from Hanoi, Vietnam to San Francisco, marking an important milestone in its international operations. In total, the Hanoi-based carrier will operate twelve demonstration/charter flights from Hanoi and Da Nang to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle through November.
Bamboo Airways’ first flight to the United States, QH9149, departed the Vietnamese capital at 8:15 P.M. and touched down in San Francisco at 7:51 P.M, per FlightRadar24, for a total flight time of 13 hours and 36 minutes. On the way back, the flight is scheduled to depart the Bay Area at 2:55 P.M. and arrive in Hanoi at 8:25 P.M.
Bamboo Airways will use its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the demonstration flights. Its long-haul aircraft utilizes two different 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.
Per Vnexpress, Bamboo Airways Deputy General Director Nguyen Ngoc Trong is excited for the new route, believing that it is an opportunity to excel amid the pandemic, stating: “In the last two years, we’ve managed to see opportunities in developing flights not just within Vietnam, but also in Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian regions like Japan, Taiwan, and even reaching towards Europe, Australia. And now, to the U.S.”
He adds, “By introducing direct flights to the U.S. at this moment in time, we’re ready to perform commercial flights once the pandemic dies down to meet customers’ demands in both countries.”
In April 2021, Bamboo Airways Chairman Trinh Van Quyet teased the start of permanent flights to the United States, stating: “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.”
The start of these flights was delayed, as Bamboo Airways is currently aiming for the launch of permanent flights in early 2022, pending government approval for their foreign carrier air permit. The Vietnamese carrier states it plans to start at three flights per week, increasing to five times a week and even daily service at some point.
To support the service in the future and help long-range operations to the U.S., Bamboo Airways inked a $2 billion deal with General Electric for their GEnx engines. In a statement from Bamboo Airways’ spokesman per Reuters, “This new signing agreement will be an important milestone for the airline to expand its transcontinental flight network, connecting Vietnam with medium and long-range markets.”
Earlier this week, Bamboo Airways met with Boeing officials in New York to discuss talks centering around the “cooperation and delivery schedule of the Boeing 787,” as part of a string of activities in the United States. For example, Bamboo Airways opened a representative office in San Francisco this week, marking a commitment towards U.S. service. Also, the airline plans to sign memorandums of understanding with Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport for service to Vietnam.
Earlier this year, 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 is 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 is arrival at 9:30 A.M. and departure at 12:30 P.M, allowing for similar departure and arrival times from and to Ho Chi Minh City.
Similarly, Vietnam Airlines is planning international flights to the U.S. in late October, per Bloomberg. According to its CEO Le Hong Ha, the airline would utilize a Boeing 787-9 or Airbus A350-900 aircraft to fly from Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco, with a stop in-between. The Vietnamese flag carrier is planning to rely on cargo demand to counter low passenger demand.
During the summer, Vietnam Airlines reinitiated repatriation efforts to the United States, operating flights to Washington Dulles, San Francisco and Dallas. Similarly to Bamboo Airways, the airline utilized its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for these flights, pivoting from the usage of the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and Airbus A350-900 in 2020.
According to RoutesOnline, Sabre data indicates that the O&D – Origin and Destination- traffic between the United States and Vietnam totaled 1.77 million passengers in 2019, with the highest number of passengers flying the 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.
Even with the high demand between the two countries pre-pandemic, concerns over profitability have arisen due to the cost of the long length of the flight and the low-yielding nature of the market. In a 2019 filing, Vietnam Airlines posted that it anticipates 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 expressed that “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.”
As Bamboo Airways is eyeing new U.S. operations, it plans to resume regular international commercial operations in November. By November 5, Bamboo Airways will resume three key international connections from Hanoi, including flights to Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo. In addition, the Vietnamese carrier is eyeing an ambitious expansion, with more flights to Australia and new flights to the United Kingdom and Germany.