HANOI, Vietnam (AFP) — Vietnam Airlines has become the first carrier in the country to secure a coveted license to fly directly to the United States, according to the airline and a regulatory filing.
The approval has been sought for months by Vietnamese carriers eager to exploit a fast-growing market for air travel among Vietnam’s booming middle class.
Domestic and regional air travel has mushroomed among Vietnamese travelers, and carriers are hoping the market will extend to U.S. travel too.
Vietnam Airlines has been licensed to fly from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Dallas, according to a regulatory filing from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The carrier also will be able to connect to Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto in Canada, it said.
The terms, which took effect Aug. 26, cover “air transportation of persons, property and mail” between the Vietnamese and North American cities.
It was not immediately clear if the flights will be nonstop or will transit through Taipei, Osaka and Nagoya, which were listed as approved intermediate hubs in the filing.
The national carrier confirmed the approval on Thursday, calling it “an important move by Vietnam Airlines in preparing its plan to fly to the U.S. in the coming time.”
It did not say when the first flight would take to the skies.
The regulations were announced after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in February awarded Vietnam a “category 1” rating, meaning airlines from the country can fly to the United States.
Vietnam’s newest airline, Bamboo Airways, also has said it plans to fly to the U.S. by the end of the year, with budget carrier VietJet expressing interest as well.
Vietnam’s aviation sector has soared in recent years, with passenger numbers jumping from 25 million in 2012 to 62 million last year.
Tourist visits from the United States also have climbed, jumping nearly 60 percent in the past five years.
Aviation analyst Greg Waldron said a move into the U.S. market is a big bet for Vietnam Airlines, which will face tough competition from established hub carriers in Taiwan, South Korea and China.
Visa issues could also create obstacles — both U.S. and Vietnamese travelers require entry permits for travel — along with the steep costs required to run long-haul routes.
“There are some serious competitive and practical restraints facing (Vietnam Airlines),” said Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flightglobal.
Last year Singapore Airlines launched the world’s longest direct flight with its route to Newark, New Jersey, topping out at 19 hours and 9,500 miles.
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