Asian carrier Vietnam Airlines has become the latest long-haul carrier to switch its London flights from Gatwick Airport to the city’s largest air gateway, Heathrow Airport, after finally securing suitable operational slots at the major hub airport. The SkyTeam alliance member will make the move across the UK capital from the start of the summer schedules in late March, according to its updated GDS inventory.
Vietnam Airlines launched flights to London Gatwick from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in December 2011 but ahead of its selection of London terminus for the flights it had been seeking slots at Heathrow. As we reported in our story from May 2011, ‘Vietnam Airlines Confirms Gatwick as London Terminus’, it has always been the carrier’s intention to move the flights to Heathrow as soon as it was able to secure slots.
The carrier currently operates two flights per week to the UK capital from Hanoi and two from Ho Chi Minh City. These will move across to Heathrow from March 30, 2015 and a third weekly rotation on the Hanoi route introduced from July 4, 2015. These will initially be flown by a Boeing 777-200ER but will be switched to Vietnam Airlines’ new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from July 1, 2015.
The airport switch will result in a change to Vietnam Airlines’ schedule on the London route with flights now departing Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City later at night, rather than in the early hours and an arrival at Heathrow at 06:40 in the morning rather than 07:20 and 07:40, respectively, currently. The return flights will depart London 95 minutes later at 14:45 rather than 13:10 currently. Here’s the new London schedule in full...
HANOI – LONDON HEATHROW – HANOI
VN055 HAN2355 – 0640+1LHR 777 14
VN054 LHR1445 – 0830+1HAN 777 25
NOTE: operates Day 146 from 04JUL15 to 31JUL15, Day 257 from 01AUG15. Schedule variation applies.
HO CHI MINH CITY – LONDON HEATHROW – HO CHI MINH CITY
VN051 SGN2330 – 0640+1LHR 777 25
VN050 LHR1445 – 0910+1SGN 777 36
It appears from its schedule inventory that London will be the first scheduled market for Vietnam Airlines’ 787s, although the type will likely be first used on regional flights ahead of its long-haul debut for crew familiarisation.
The Asian carrier has also recently opened reservations for its new A350XWBs, which will initially be deployed on its route between Hanoi and Paris CDG from the end of the third quarter 2015. It will be the second operator of the new generation widebody airliner after Qatar Airways which debuts the type later this month between Doha and Frankfurt. Vietnam Airlines will also deploy the type on its daily Hanoi – Seoul Incheon (flights 'VN414/415') from October 1, 2015.
Vietnam Airlines has a mix of A350-900s and Boeing 787-9s on order as it seeks to replace its older A330-200 and 777-200ER fleets, all of which are leased. Under its renewal strategy its nine A330-200s and nine 777-200ERs will be replaced with the modern generation equipment by the end of 2018, with additional A350s and 787s used to support a growth strategy to support Vietnam’s growing standing in the global economy.
Although no confirmed delivery schedule has been confirmed by the airline, the first 787 is expected to arrive before the middle of 2015, slightly ahead of the arrival of the first A350, expected around June or July 2015. A total of eight new aircraft are expected to arrive in the calendar year with around half of these being used for frequency or route growth.
In addition to the London and Paris routes, Vietnam Airlines’ long-haul network also currently comprises Frankfurt and Moscow in Europe and Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. All these routes will be served by the two new types, while growth could see additional frequencies added to these markets and the launch of much anticipated direct flights between Vietnam and the United States.
Ahead of the introduction of non-stop flights between Vietnam and the UK in late 2011, the country had been the largest O&D market from Vietnam not served by Vietnam Airlines. Official data shows an O&D market of an estimated 83,000 passengers between the two countries in 2010 with traffic mainly routing via Bangkok with Thai Airways International, Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore with Singapore Airlines.
Alongside business and leisure travellers the routes are underpinned by the 40,000 Vietnamese people living and working in Britain, and the approximate 7,000 students studying in the country, which add strong VFR demand to the traffic.
The chart, below, highlights the growing O&D demand between the UK and Vietnam over the past ten years, highlighting traffic to and from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The data clearly shows the strong and growing baseline demand between the two countries before 2011 and how the market has been stimulated by the new non-stop flights in 2012 and 2013.