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VietJet eyes aircraft purchases as it relies on vaccine rollouts to revive air travel

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet Aviation plans to expand its investment in new aircraft and technical facilities this year after reporting a small profit in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, its chief executive officer said.

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“In 2021, we expect to continue to receive new modern planes and will invest in maintenance and training facilities, and the investment will be higher than in 2020,” VietJet President and CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao said in an interview recorded on Jan. 9 and broadcast on Thursday at the Reuters Next conference.

VietJet said separately on Wednesday it raised $28 million via a bond issuance last month to fund its development plans in 2021. It did not provide further details about the bond sale.

Vietnam has been successful in containing the coronavirus with a series of quarantine and tracking measures. With just over 1,500 infections and 35 deaths in total, it has resumed economic activities earlier than much of Asia.

While all international commercial flights have been suspended since late March, domestic air travel has been subjected to few restrictions.

VietJet’s cargo transport in 2020 rose 75% from 2019, she said, adding that its overall domestic operations recorded positive growth in 2020, without giving comparative figures.

With the early COVID-19 vaccine roll-out around the world, Thao expects the global aviation industry to recover rapidly.

Vietjet’s Thai unit increased its aircraft fleet to 15 last year, while its market share there also increased, she added.

“Air travel demand is extremely high for business, investment, education and healthcare purposes, and we have been actively conducting flights to repatriate Vietnamese people from overseas,” Thao said.

She said the company is considering options to raise fundsfor its investment plans for this year, though she did not namean amount.

“Our debt-to-equity ratio is 1.0, compared with over 3.0 for the aviation industry, so we have room to mobilise funds for ourdevelopment,” Thao said.

The airline continued to take delivery of Airbus SE narrowbody jets last year despite some supply chain interruptions at the manufacturer but Boeing Co did not meet its delivery schedule, she said.

VietJet has 200 737 MAX jets on order, according to Boeing, but the plane has not yet returned to service in Asia following a near two-year global grounding.

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Reporting by Khanh Vu; additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney