Only two out of the five international airports in Vietnam are operating with a gain, and most only receive domestic flights, despite their name.
Even so, the country has planned to double the number of international terminals by 2020.
In January the VND3-trillion ($114 million) Can Tho International Airport was officially put into operation, and has since only received a couple of chartered flights from Taiwan of national flag-carrier Vietnam Airlines (VNA).
The flights were intended to serve Vietnamese brides in Taiwan who wanted to visit their home country, and such services are only offered on the occasion of the Lunar New Year.
Can Tho’s terminal now only sees the presence of two airliners, VNA and Vasaco, who offer domestic services between Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc, and Con Dao on the frequency of six to eight flights a day.
Similarly, many terminals elsewhere in the country were upgraded into international airports, only to continue serving domestic air services.
Haiphong-based Cat Bi International Airport, for instance, hasn’t received any international flights since March 2010 when its only global partner, the low-cost carrier Viva Macau, ceased operation.
Cam Ranh airport too only serves chartered flights from Russia and Korea, while most of the time it has to offer services for domestic flights.
Even at Danang International Airport, considered an active destination for tourism in central Vietnam, only Silk Air and Air Asia currently offer service on the Danang – Singapore route, with four flights a week.
Can Tho’s terminal was invested with an enormous $114 million, which enabled it to receive large aircraft such as Boeing’s 777 and 747 while serving 3 million passengers a year.
The airport was expected to see new air routes connecting the Mekong Delta city with South Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong after its inauguration, but has gained only disappointment.
With a small number of flights enjoying services at the terminal, Can Tho airport has been gaining a modest sum compared with the massive investment it received.
Lai Xuan Thanh, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV), said Can Tho is in an advantageous geographical position, from which air services to Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia can be launched.
“But what a pity that no such services have ever been offered,” he said.
A CAAV chief official said his agency has invited international airliners to Can Tho to see if they can open air routes to the city following the inauguration of the terminal.
“The carriers’ feedback is that the terminal infrastructure is quite good, but they all commented that Can Tho is not an attractive destination for an international air route to be opened,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“They said local tourism is unappealing, while the economy has nothing to attract investors, which means any international air service will surely incur losses,” he added.
Budget carrier Jetstar Pacific said it used to offer service between Hanoi and Can Tho, but had to stop after just five months.
“We had few passengers, and suffered a $2 million loss,” said Thanh.
Meanwhile, it is expected to take Lien Khuong airport in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong as long as 30 years to recoup the huge VND1.7 trillion earmarked for its upgrade.
“The terminal is capable of serving international flights and receiving up to 2 million passengers a year, but it now suffers poor revenues and low flight frequency,” an aviation expert said on condition of anonymity.