Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vietnam to offer air taxis to island tourist resorts

Mon Sep 24, 2007 11:47am IST

By Ho Binh Minh

HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese firm plans to offer Vietnam's first air taxi service to several popular resorts to further boost tourism, a company executive said on Monday.

State media and company officials said the firm would negotiate with Boeing Co to buy four new Boeing 787s to lease to national carrier Vietnam Airlines.

Small planes and helicopters would fly to the former U.S. military base of Cam Ranh in central Vietnam near Nha Trang beach resort; Phu Quoc island near Cambodia; the central highland town of Dalat, and the northern world heritage site of Halong Bay.

"We will seek government approval to operate night flights to Cam Ranh and Phu Quoc island," Vietindebank Chief Executive Tran Bac Ha told a news conference.

Unlisted Vietindebank, the country's second-largest lender, formed an aircraft leasing firm this month with four other state-run companies. The firm will hold a majority of shares in the air taxi subsidiary, Ha said.

Vietnam Airlines flies to Cam Ranh but it has few small planes for short-distance routes and can only operate daytime flights because the airport has an insufficient lighting system. Ha said the aircraft leasing firm would invest in the equipment for night flights.

The number of foreign visitors to Vietnam has risen 16.9 percent to more than 2.8 million in the first eight months of this year, according to industry reports.

The government is aiming to double tourism revenues to between $4 billion and $4.5 billion by 2010 from $2.2 billion in 2006.

Vietindebank, Vietnam Airlines, state oil group Petrovietnam, shipbuider Vinashin and Phong Phu textile corporation will investment $200 million between now and 2014 in the project.

Total state ownership would be 79 percent, leaving 21 percent for Vietnamese non-state investors, Ha said.

The leasing firm would raise its registered capital to $1 billion between 2015 and 2025 and look for foreign investors.

Cam Ranh was used by American B-52 bombers during the U.S. war in Vietnam that ended in 1975. Four years later, Vietnam leased the base to the Soviet Union, which turned it into its largest overseas naval base and its biggest military station outside of the Warsaw Pact.

Military cutbacks prompted Russia to vacate the base in May 2002.

Phu Quoc island is known for its clean beach, fish sauce and black pepper production. It has attracted increasing interest of property investors and domestic and foreign travellers.

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