Ehime eyes direct flights to Vietnam

Courtesy of Ehime prefectural government
Vietjet Air Vice Chairman Nguyen Thanh Hung, left, and Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura exchange a memorandum of understanding in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ehime Prefecture has earmarked ¥34 million in a draft supplementary budget in a bid to establish a direct air route linking the prefecture and Vietnam.

Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura has helped to push the project forward, but there are still some issues to be overcome before flights can start taking off.

From July 31 to Aug. 2, Nakamura visited southern Vietnam with business leaders from Ehime prefecture and met with Nguyen Thanh Hung, vice chairman of Vietjet Air, Vietnam’s largest low-cost carrier.

The governor exchanged a memorandum with Hung stating that the prefectural government and the airline will make efforts to realize regular flights and stable operations on the route.

The prefectural government plans to operate charter flights in winter and spring to evaluate demand and find out the challenges for running regular services. The project budget includes subsidies for package tours on charter flights, inspection tours for travel agencies, and public relations activities on social media.

Vietnam, which has a population of about 100 million and an average age of 31, is experiencing remarkable economic development. According to the Japan External Trade Organization, the country’s economic growth rate in 2021 was 2.6%. Growth was 7% in 2019, before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Vietjet Air has seven regular Japan routes, flying connecting Hanoi with Narita, Kansai, Chubu and Fukuoka airports, Ho Chi Minh City with Narita and Kansai airports, and Da Nang with Haneda airport.

Ehime hopes to establish a new route connecting Ho Chi Minh City. The region has no direct air links to Vietnam.

As of the end of June, the prefecture had about 3,427 Vietnamese residents, mainly trainee workers. Of the 11,900 foreign residents in the prefecture as of the end of June, 30% were Vietnamese.

“[Vietnam] is a promising market,” Nakamura said. “The seeds have been planted for the launch of the route.”

Immigration control and quarantine systems must be in place before international flights can be resumed at Matsuyama Airport. The central government has not given the all-clear for international flights to restart in the prefecture because of a shortage of quarantine officials, among other reasons.

International flights started taking off again at Hiroshima, Takamatsu and other airports in July, bringing the number of Japanese airports operating international flights to 10.

An Ehime government official said, “We are making preparations in anticipation of the reopening of the airport.”

At a press conference on Sept. 2, Nakamura said he has been lobbying Diet members for the swift resumption of international flights.

“Proactive promotion projects by the prefecture with a view to the resumption of services is also a good way to reach out to the central government,” Nakamura said.