(Corrects to remove extraneous word in second paragraph)
* Co plans to start with 3-4 leased planes
* Will order Airbus or Boeing narrow-body jets at Singapore Airshow
* Majority of flights will be international
By Khanh Vu
HANOI, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Vietnam’s Vietravel Airlines plans to launch its first flight next year, Chief Executive Vu Duc Bien said, joining a rising number of entrants in one of the world’s fast-growing aviation markets.
Vietravel Airlines, owned by the country’s leading tour operator Vietravel, will start with three to four leased planes and expects to place an order for Airbus SE or Boeing Co narrow-body jets at the Singapore Airshow in February, which will be scheduled for delivery within five years, Bien told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
“We will buy either Airbus’s A321neo or Boeing’s 737 aircraft,” he said.
The aviation market of Vietnam, which has a population of 96 million people, has been growing at double-digit rates, encouraging companies to compete for a slice.
Vietnam’s largest conglomerate Vingroup JSC had applied for a licence to launch an airline next year, after property and leisure firm FLC Group’s Bamboo Airways started its maiden commercial flight in January to become the fifth Vietnamese airline.
Vietravel Airlines is finalising procedures to obtain the licenses and certificates needed to launch its maiden charter flight scheduled for November next year, Bien said.
“We already have passengers even before we launched our first flight,” Bien said, noting that Vietravel served around 1 million travellers last year, with half of them travelling by air.
Vietravel Airlines plans to operate three to four aircraft in the first year, Bien said, adding that the company will expand its fleet to six aircraft in the second year, 8 to 10 within five years, and later bring it to 20 to 30.
“A majority will be international flights,” he said. “Our target markets are Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, Australia and China.”
He said Vietravel Airlines has raised 700 billion dong ($30.17 million) via a bond sale, and is planning to sell a stake of up to 34% of the company within one year of operations for future expansion plans.
“We will sell the stake to domestic investors, not foreign investors,” Bien said, adding that more than 10 foreign investors have approached the company to buy a stake.
“This market is for Vietnamese investors and there’s no reason for us to invite a foreign investor to exploit this market,” he said. “We want to build a purely Vietnamese airline.”
The airline will be listed on the local stock market exchange, he said, without providing the time frame.
Several local banks have shown their interest in funding the company’s aircraft purchases, Bien said.
$1 = 23,205 dong Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Jamie Freed and Sherry Jacob-Phillips