VietJet Air, Vietnam’s low-cost carrier (LCC), will start descending to Bangkok in early 2013 to break the monopoly on budget air travel between Thailand and Vietnam enjoyed by Thai AirAsia (TAA).
The airline, the first privately owned carrier in the socialist state, is scheduled to begin a daily flight between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, its first international route, on Feb 10.
Plans are afoot for the introduction of a Bangkok-Hanoi route, also on a daily basis, in May 2013 as VietJet gears up its international expansion with a fleet of brand-new A320 narrow-body jets with 180 seats.
The airline, which caused a stir earlier this year by staging an in-flight bikini show on its inaugural flight to the tourist hub of Nha Trang, will not only compete with TAA, which has dominated budget air travel between Thailand and Vietnam for more than five years.
It will also compete with several full-service airlines such as Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways.
TAA, part of Asia’s largest LCC group, has been operating Bangkok-Hanoi since 2005 and Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City since 2007.
TAA is also deploying a similar type of aircraft as VietJet: A320s configured with 180 seats in a single class.
Traffic demand, particularly for Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City, is rising, and TAA last month ramped up flight frequency to three a day instead of two, though it still maintains once-a-day service for Bangkok-Hanoi, according to TAA executives.
Thanapol Cheewarattanapon, managing director of QE Tour, the Bangkok-based travel agent recently appointed general sales agent for VietJet in Thailand, said yesterday that the extensive network and frequent flights within Vietnam has offered an edge for the airline against international competitors.
VietJet now has nine domestic routes on a network that connects Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Danang, Vinh and Hai Phong, Hue, Da Lat and Phu Quoc. More international routes linking Vietnam’s two largest cities _ Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi _ with major Asian destinations are planned for next year.
Mr Thanapol told the Bangkok Post that the emergence of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2016 would spur air traffic demand between Thailand and Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asian, creating opportunities for VietJet.
TAA chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld yesterday welcomed the entry of VietJet.
“Competition is very normal in a free market; it’s not something new for us,” he said. “Our focus is to continue offering low-cost and affordable fares while expanding our connectivity with new routes.”
Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd announced in February 2010 that it planned to purchase a 30% stake in VietJet through a joint venture agreement. The carrier later rescinded its plans, citing a failure to obtain Vietnamese regulatory approvals.
To support its sale drive in Thailand, VietJet has launched a Thai-language website, http://www.vietjetair.com/Sites/Web/th-TH/Home, in addition to websites in English and Vietnamese.
The airline will also offer 3,000 seats with a promotional one-way Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City fare of 99 baht, barring extras like taxes and airport fees, at its website on Dec 20, for travel between Feb 10 and Dec 31 in 2013.