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Wed, Feb 04, 2004

Vietnam-US Aviation Talks Take Flight

Safety Is Main Point Of Discussion

Top officials from the FAA arrived in Hanoi Sunday to discuss the recently approved Air Services Agreement, and its impact on bilateral relations.

However, the United States wants a review of Vietnam's airport safety standards before it implements the landmark bilateral trade pact that would start direct flights between the two former foes.

FAA Deputy Administrator Robert Sturgell and the Assistant Administrator for International Aviation Douglas E. Lavin are heading the delegation.

Mr. Sturgell will meet with officials at the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as representatives from the US and Vietnamese airline industries. Officials will discuss the recently-approved Air Services Agreement and its impact on bilateral relations.

Also, the two sides will discuss safety issues and the potential for direct flights and code-sharing opportunities. Several U.S. carriers had said in October they thought the first direct flights from America might start in March. But with the safety review far from complete, that timetable appeared unlikely.

"The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV) will have to demonstrate its compliance with the international standards," Federal Aviation Administration Deputy Administrator Robert Sturgell told a news briefing on Monday.

He said the rules to ensure the safety of global travel are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization based in Montreal, of which America and Vietnam are members. Asked if Vietnam had lapses in any of the rules, Sturgell said he was "not aware" of any particular deficiencies.

The delegation is to visit other countries in the region, including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangalore after leaving Vietnam late today.

The Air Services Agreement is one of important agreements signed in December after the Vietnam – US Bilateral Trade Agreement. This agreement is legal foundation for US and Vietnam to open direct flights as well as to boost opportunity of developing airlines.

Two-way passenger traffic between America and Vietnam is between 270,000 and 280,000 people a year and has been growing at between five and seven percent annually. Some 214,253 people from America visited Vietnam in 2003, the second largest group after China.

A U.S. review team is expected to visit Vietnam in the next few months to look at its airports, said Sturgell, who was in the country to discuss the aviation agreement.

In the first two year taking in effect, the agreement allows each nation have 2 national airlines to open direct flights in the first year and then add an another airline in the following year.

US side will start the direct flights to Vietnam in 2004 while it is expected that Vietnam airlines including Vietnam airline, Pacific Airline will do in 2005.

So far, only American Airlines has filed an application to begin code-share flights with Vietnam Airlines, but Sturgell said that Continental Airlines "has also expressed an interest" in tapping the market. American Airlines this week opens its first office in Vietnam and will expand code-share flights to five U.S. cities.

In the first two years, two passenger carriers on each side can operate direct flights, with a third added in the third year. Cargo operators can operate unlimited direct flights. UPS and FedEx Corp. have expressed interested in direct cargo service between the countries.

This agreement will boost trade, investment and tourism for both sides in the future beside Vietnam – US Bilateral Agreement coming into effect in 2001.

FMI:  www.faa.gov

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