In a recent U.S. Department of Transportation filing, Bamboo Airways announced its intentions to fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles and San Francisco beginning in the third quarter of 2021 amid earlier reports of the airline’s plans to launch flights to San Francisco.
In April, AirlineGeeks reported that Bamboo Airways Chairman Trinh Van Quyet had intentions to launch flights to San Francisco in September depending on the recovery of market conditions.
“We will start conducting chartered flights to the U.S. in July and target the launch of nonstop commercial flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco in September, with an initial frequency of three flights per week,” he said at the time.
According to VnExpress News, the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport is finalizing procedures to designate Bamboo Airways for initial charter flights to the U.S. Bamboo Airways charters would probably serve as repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens who want to return home, as non-essential travel to Vietnam is barred for anyone else. Also, it will service essential travel needs between the two countries, like for Vietnamese students and relatives returning to the U.S. Currently, any clue as to what the destinations or dates of these charters would be remains unseen.
Additionally, the low-cost airline has finalized a preliminary schedule for the flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles after receiving approval for its proposed flight timings at the two slot-facilitated airports. Its preliminary schedule at San Francisco includes an arrival at 10 a.m. and a departure at 1 p.m., facilitating a departure from Ho Chi Minh City in the late morning or early afternoon and an arrival into Ho Chi Minh City in the evening. Meanwhile, its preliminary schedule to Los Angeles is a 9:30 a.m. arrival and a 12:30 p.m. departure, allowing for similar departures and arrivals to and from Ho Chi Minh City.
The flights will operate between four times and seven times a week.
Bamboo Airways will utilize the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the route. Its long-haul aircraft feature two seating configurations, one featuring 294 seats with 26 business class seats, 21 premium economy seats and 247 economy seats, and another featuring 292 seats with 30 business class seats, 36 premium economy seats and 226 economy seats.
In its Department of Transportation filing, Bamboo Airways filed for rights to fly to Seattle, New York and Dallas, with possible intermediate stops in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan, and rights to continue flights to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. All of these routes were selected by the Vietnamese government. However, the carrier does not have fifth-freedom rights between the U.S. and Japan, and will fly to Los Angeles and San Francisco nonstop, while the application for intermediate stops is pending.
Additionally, Bamboo Airways plans to codeshare with a “major” U.S. carrier. If it codeshares with an airline, the Hanoi-based carrier has rights to codeshare on flights to 25 destinations in the U.S.: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Newark, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, St. Louis, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Wichita.
Furthermore, Bamboo Airways has begun hiring employees for its representative office in San Francisco, including a station manager in San Francisco, a positive sign toward concrete service plans.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Bamboo Airways had announced plans for U.S. service like utilizing an Airbus A380 via Taipei, though it never came to fruition. Additionally, the airline had announced its intentions to fly to the U.S. by late 2020 or early 2021, though this also never came to fruition.
Pre-pandemic, the carrier’s route network consisted of a sizable domestic route network and flights to Japan, South Korea and Taipei, and planned the launch of flights to Prague, Czech Republic and Munich, Germany in 2020. Currently, in addition to U.S. services, Bamboo Airways is proposing flights to Australia, the United Kingdom and additional flights to Europe.
Currently, Vietnam Airlines has plans to service flights between Vietnam and the U.S., starting in 2021, though it is unclear whether they will launch these flights. In 2020, the flag carrier repatriated Vietnamese citizens via San Francisco, Houston and Washington Dulles.
Concerns Over Profitability
According to RoutesOnline, Sabre data shows that the O&D traffic from Vietnam to the United States totaled 1.77 million passengers in 2019, with 300,300 passengers on the Ho Chi Minh to Los Angeles route and 198,000 passengers on the Ho Chi Minh to San Francisco route.
Amid the demand figures between the two destinations, there are concerns over profitability. In 2018, Vietnam Airlines CEO Doung Tri Thanh stated, “Vietnam Airlines could face an average annual loss of $30 million in the first five years of operation if we open a direct route to the U.S.” However, he added that they would break even after five years.
These losses could be incurred by Bamboo Airways if they launch their routes, a hit toward their $13 million profit reported in 2020.