HANOI, 20 February 2019: As Vietnam’s tourism and airline business expands by double digit growth rates, there are concerns the country needs to invest more on its safety check inspectors.
Aviation safety checks, carried out by the country’s civil aviation authority, could ultimately be hampered by an acute shortage of qualified inspectors.
Last week, Vietnam was awarded the ICAO recognised Category 1 rating and completed the first ever successful assessment by the US FAA.
It will open the way for Vietnam Airlines to start a direct flight to the US, although the airline has still to clarify its intentions on a proposed launch of services later this year.
A VnExpress report highlighted future challenges arguing that Vietnam, now that it has gained Category 1 status it should urgently hire more inspectors, pay them competitive salaries and ensure checks are carried based on strict schedules.
To gain US FAA recognition, Vietnam had to comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards, the global agency that grants nations a Category 1 rating.
“Acquiring this rating is hard, keeping it is going to be even harder,” Dinh Viet Thang, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), told VnExpress Monday.
Category 1 status was confirmed by a US FAA assessment of the safety oversight provided by Vietnam’s CAA and based on the country’s civil aviation authority complying with ICAO standards.
With the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category 1 rating, Vietnamese air carriers that are able to secure the requisite FAA and DOT authority, can establish services to the US and carry the code of US airlines in codeshare agreements.
CAAV currently has just 30 aviation safety officers and can only meet 30% of the checks scheduled. To reduce the backlog it has to outsource hiring inspectors from private airline companies.
The US FAA requires CAAV to recruit all of its safety officers and end outsourcing by 2025.
But aviation safety officers are paid a fraction of what they earn if they work for private airlines and the CAA is calling on the government to increase its budget to train more officers and pay them a competitive salary to work for the agency.
Inspectors are supposed to make spot checks on airlines and failure to conduct the required checks over a period of time could ultimately result in downgrading the country from category 1 to 2.
A downgrade to category 2 is highly damaging for a country, as it cannot fly airline services direct to the US or increase services or destinations. In the past, Thailand Indonesia and the Philippines had to deal with a category downgrade that caused problem for the tourism industry as flights and plans to launch new routes were reduced or frozen.
There is also the knock-on impact from downgrades as other countries such as Japan and Korea follow suit causing a freeze on new services to a much wider geographical area.
State-owned Vietnam Airlines, budget airline Vietjet and start-up Bamboo Airways have all expressed interest in ultimately flying to the US although Vietnam Airlines is the probably best prepared to take the commercial gamble.
But expanding flights to China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan are priorities to tap the boom in travel from East Asia.
Vietnam’s aviation industry is driving visits with the growth in arrivals by air increasing 14.4% in 2018 to deliver 12.5 million. Overall visitor arrivals by land, sea and air reached 15.5 million in 2018