Vietnam Airlines will accelerate short haul expansion as A321neos are delivered

Vietnam Airlines has finally taken delivery of its first Airbus A321neo, enabling the flag carrier to resume narrowbody expansion. It was initially planning to receive its first aircraft in early 2018 and take 10 of the new type this year followed by another 10 in 2019, but has been significantly impacted by multiple delays with the delivery of Pratt & Whitney powered neos.


Summary:

  • Vietnam Airlines has taken delivery of its first Airbus A321neo, significantly later than originally planned;
  • The airline has commitments for 20 A321neos which will mainly be used to expand its activity in the domestic and regional international markets;
  • Vietnam Airlines is the second operator of A321neos in Vietnam after independent LCC VietJet.

Vietnam Airlines’ first A321neo, registered VN-A617, was handed over at a 15-Nov-2018 delivery ceremony at Airbus’ Hamburg facility. The aircraft was ferried to Hanoi on 16/17-Nov-2017 via Baku in Azerbaijan and placed into service on 18-Nov-2018. It has since been operating domestic services from the capital Hanoi to Vietnam’s largest city Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam’s third largest city Da Nang.

The airline is configuring its A321neos with 195 economy and eight business class seats. The aircraft are outfitted with wireless IFE, marking the first time Vietnam Airlines has gone with a streaming product. The first aircraft is leased from Aviation Capital Group (ACG) and the carrier is planning to lease all 20 of its A321neos, including six from ACG.

The A321neos will be used mainly for growth. Vietnam Airlines has been waiting for the new type to resume narrowbody expansion. Over the last couple of years, the airline has relied mainly on additional widebody aircraft to generate growth, including on domestic and regional routes.

The SkyTeam alliance member took its last new A321ceo in late 2015, giving it a fleet 54 aircraft. It added two further A321ceos in 2016 and one A321ceo in 2017 but these were not new to the group as they were transferred back from its Cambodian affiliate.

Vietnam Airlines operates 10 of its A321ceos in the same 203-seat two class configuration as its new A321neos. These 10 aircraft were retrofitted over the last few years, enabling Vietnam Airlines to better compete against LCCs. Most of the fleet has not been retrofitted and is in a lower density 184 seat configuration, including a larger business cabin of 16 seats and 168 economy seats.

According to the CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database, Vietnam Airlines’ A321ceos are three to 15 years old and most are owned outright. The airline initially intended to keep all its A321ceos for at least a few more years and earmarked the 20 A321neos entirely for growth. However, it has the flexibility to pursue a slower rate of expansion by phasing out its oldest A321ceos and has in fact been looking at potentially accelerating the sale of a few A321ceos.

In its latest development strategy, Vietnam Airlines has stated that it plans to grow its fleet by 19 aircraft by the end of 2019. The A321neos will drive most of this growth. It also plans to take delivery of a final two A350-900s by the end of this year and its first batch of Boeing 787-10s in 2019 but will be retiring its last two A330-200s. There are eight 787-10s due for delivery from 2019 to 2021; these will used to up-gauge Australia and North Asia routes served by 787-8s and A350-900s.

Vietnam Airlines also has been evaluating regional jets, which will be acquired to replace the group’s ATR 72 fleet (some of which are operated by turboprop subsidiary VASCO) and operate on thinner jet routes. In addition it is considering acquiring A320neos. Vietnam Airlines’ smallest jet aircraft is now the A321 although it has previously operated A320s and Fokker 70s.

It may be Vietnam’s flag carrier, but Vietnam Airlines is not actually the first to fly the A321neo in the country. Rival VietJet took its first A321neo in late 2017 and now operates four of the type. The LCC has a staggering 119 A321neos on order.

The A320 family dominates Vietnam’s in service fleet. Alongside Vietnam Airlines, VietJet currently operates 52 A320ceos/A321ceos, while Vietnam Airlines’ LCC subsidiary Jetstar Pacific is another A320ceo operator with 17 of the type.

CHART – The Airbus A320 family dominates Vietnam’s in service fleetSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database (data: w/c 19-Nov-2018)