When international travel bounces back to pre-pandemic levels, Vietnam is expected to see a surge in air passenger traffic. The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) estimates the average annual passenger growth rate to reach 7.5% to 8.5% from 2020 to 2030. By the end of the decade, the number of passengers arriving through the international and domestic airports around the country will reach 280 million per year.
It is this anticipated growth in demand that’s pushed the Vietnamese government to make large investments in airport construction and infrastructure upgrades. The country plans to set aside a budget of VND 400 trillion ($17.65 billion) on the renovations and developments of airports nationwide from 2021 to 2030, according to the Ministry of Transport.
One of the most anticipated airport investments is the Long Thanh International Airport in the province of Dong Nai, approximately 40 km east of Ho Chi Minh City. Considered to be the most ambitious airport investment in Vietnam in recent history and one of the world’s most expensive airport projects in 2021, the airport is valued at $14.5 billion. It will sit on 5,580ha of land, with a 4km long and 75m wide runway, a taxiway, an apron system, a passenger terminal, a cargo terminal, and an air traffic control tower.
For an airport of such size, construction will be done in phases. Phase 1 (2021-2025) will involve the construction of the runway, terminal building along with other parts that will be used to handle 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of cargo annually. Three subphases will include the construction of airport facilities, parking lots, taxiways, other facilities, and land clearance of future expansions and renovations. Phase 1 alone will already be eating up $4.72 billion of the budget.
Phase 2 (2025-2035) will see the construction of an additional runway and terminal to increase passenger and cargo capacities. During the last and third phase (after 2035), four additional runways will be built to increase capacity to 100 million passengers and 5 million tons of cargo a year.
But after a solemn groundbreaking ceremony in January last year led by then Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, there seems to be no progress with the construction.
Last month, VnExpress wrote that Pham Minh Chinh, the current prime minister of Vietnam, was unhappy with how “troublesome” the development of the airport has been. The Vietnamese leader inspected the site early in February and saw that even the office of the project management board has yet to take form.
A long way to go
Talks about the megaproject started as early as 2013 — about a decade ago — when ACV was proposing ways to relieve congestion at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. HCMC and Dong Nai officials brought forward construction proposals and goals. ACV initially submitted an investment plan costing $18 billion in 2014. After several revisions and discussions with relevant government agencies, and foreign investors, the Ministry of Transport reduced the budget down to $15.8 billion in February 2015. Even then, the plan underwent several more adjustments. The government officially approved the first phase of construction only in the last quarter of 2020.
In November last year, Vietnam's Minister of Transport Nguyen Van The committed to completing the first phase of Long Thanh International Airport, to be put into operation at the end of 2025. During that time, state-run developer ACV said it has already completed 75% of a 9km fencing system around the airport and 75% of bomb and mine detection and clearance work.
ACV vowed it would speed up construction and ground leveling. The infrastructure for take-off and landing is said to be completed by December 2024, and terminals by March 2025. But even so, the airport needs to undergo trial operations for at least three months before it can fully operate.
Local roads directly linking to the new airport also need to be built. Dong Nai has already approved investment plans for four roads leading to the Long Thanh airport, with the project expected to hit more than $303 million, excluding site clearance costs. Capital for the road construction will be taken from the budget and the land funds along the two sides of the roads.
The province has requested relevant districts coordinate with units involved to exploit the land funds and put potential land lots up for bidding, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Construction of the four roads will be conducted during 2021-2025. Roads directly or indirectly linked to Long Thanh will play an important role in the province’s development, as they can help bring into full play opportunities brought about by the airport.