Saturday, January 26, 2008

US Helps Vietnam With Direct Flights

By TRAN VAN MINH Associated Press Writer

© 2008 The Associated Press HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam's national air carrier hopes to have direct flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles within a year after the U.S. provided $1.4 million to help upgrade safety standards, an official said Friday.

The money will be used to ensure Vietnam's aviation safety and security procedures meet international standards required for all aircraft entering the United States, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

"The assistance is essential to Vietnam Airlines in its efforts to open direct flights to the United States," said Lai Xuan Thanh, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam, or CAAV. "We need more direct flights to match the fine growing economic ties between Vietnam and the United States."

He said the project's three phases are expected to be complete by August. U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will then visit Vietnam to check that all of the standards have been met.

"The United States stands ready to help the CAAV and Vietnam Airlines upgrade its safety capacity and looks forward to the opening of direct service to the United States," the embassy statement said.

Vietnam Airlines could then launch its direct flight to the U.S. in late 2008 at the earliest, he said. It would fly from the southern commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles via Osaka, Japan.

Currently, United Airlines is the only carrier to operate direct service to the U.S. It opened flight from Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco via Hong Kong in late 2004.

These flights are considered direct because the planes only stop for a short time to pick up additional passengers.

Vietnam and the United States signed an aviation agreement in 2003, allowing the countries to exchange direct flights and to add code-shared flights, which enables other airlines already operating in each country to complete part of the journey.

More than 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese _ the largest population outside Vietnam _ live in the United States with the biggest community in Southern California. Many fled their native country in boats after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and northern communist forces took control of the former South Vietnam, which the U.S. had backed.