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Vietnam Airlines swaps old planes for new ones   2009-08-26 - VietNamNet/SGT

Vietnam Airlines on Saturday handed over the first of its seven short-haul planes ATR72-200 to the France-based aircraft manufacturer ATR as part of its agreement with the plane maker to replace old planes by the new generation turboprops ATR72-500.

The Vietnam Airlines crew for the ATR72-200 plane coded VN-B02 and leaders of the national air carrier pose for a group photo by the plane that was handed over to the European aircraft manufacturer on Saturday.

Nguyen Van Hung, deputy general director of Vietnam Airlines, said in a statement sent to the Daily that the hand-over marked important development in modernizing the aircraft fleet in general and the ATR72 fleet in particular as outlined in a program that Vietnam Airlines initiated in June 2009.

Hung said Vietnam Airlines would deliver back all the ATR72-200s which have been put into service since 1992 to the plane maker within one year. These old turboprops will be replaced by the new ATR72-500s that the airline has already ordered from the aircraft maker.

"Vietnam Airlines will operate a fleet of all new generation ATR72-500s by the end of 2010 in an effort to improve our efficiency and services. We are ready to put into use 14 ATR72-500s to meet the air travel demand which is forecast to recover soon," Hung said.

Hung said that Vietnam Airlines would operate the new ATR72-500s for short-haul flights to airports in the Mekong Delta, mountainous areas and islands as well as to other destinations in Indochina.

Philippe Vercruyce, vice chairman of ATR, said at the handover ceremony in Hanoi that the replacement marked the long-term and important cooperation between the plane manufacturer and Vietnam Airlines.

Vietnam Airlines has already signed contracts with the European aircraft maker to purchase new ATR72-500s, including five in 2007, six in December 2008 and two in June this year.

Also in June, Vietnam Airlines secured 10-year loans worth US$120 million from a consortium of HSBC, Credit Suisse and Vietnam Technological and Commercial Joint-Stock Bank (Techcombank) to buy six modern ATR72-500s. The carrier will receive these turboprops until February 2010.

Hung said it was crucial for Vietnam Airlines to develop its aircraft fleet and flight network to become one of the top carriers in Southeast Asia, as it is expected to operate 104 aircraft in 2015 and 150 in 2020 under a strategy approved by the Prime Minister.

In related news, Vietnam Airlines will add two flights to its current weekly schedule of 11 flights on the Hanoi-Can Tho route from September 1. This means the airline will fly twice a day between the capital city and the Mekong Delta city.

Also in the plan is to commence the service between Hanoi and Japan's city of Fukuoka on October 10 this year.

This is the fourth destinations in Japan that Vietnam Airlines flies to in addition to Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka.

Le Hoang Dung, spokesman of Vietnam Airlines, told the Daily on the phone last week that the airline would operate two weekly Hanoi-Fukuoka flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and would reduce the three existing weekly HCMC-Fukuoka flights to two after the launch of the new service.

Fukuoka is one of the biggest industrial centers of Japan and is home to the country's major industries including automobile, bio-technology, hydropower, information and communications technology and environment.

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