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Vietnam Weekly - November 16, 2018

Good morning! Thanks as always for reading, and do hit 'reply' if you have any feedback or other thoughts. There won't be a newsletter next week as I'll be up in the mountains of northern Vietnam. 

I had one piece published this week, a look at the clean timber agreement between Vietnam and the European Union for Mongabay. 

I'm sure there will be Vietnam-related news from the ongoing APEC and ASEAN summits, but I'll address that in two weeks since those conferences are still underway.

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On to the news!

Airlines and Airport, Oh My!

The past week has seen quite a bit of aviation news across the country. For starters, Bamboo Airways, the new airline created by real estate conglomerate FLC Group, received its aviation license on Monday, meaning it can officially start offering flights. FLC's chairman told Reuters that he expects the airline to take to the skies within 45 days. 

Bamboo will become the fifth Vietnamese airline to join the country's increasingly crowded routes, and their initial plan is to connect Saigon and Hanoi to domestic destinations such as Quy Nhon and Dong Hoi which are already home to FLC resorts. 

Meanwhile last Friday VietJet, the rapidly growing budget airline led by Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Vietnam's wealthiest woman, signed a USD6.5 billion deal to acquire 50 (!) planes from Airbus.

At the same time, VnExpress ran an article on how Vietnamese airlines are looking to offer more international routes, since the domestic market is showing signs of saturation. Anyone who frequently flies within Vietnam knows this is the case - both Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat (especially the latter) are over-capacity, and it is pretty much a given that anytime you fly domestic your flight will be delayed since air traffic gets stacked up with so many planes in the skies. My question, therefore, is where on earth are Bamboo and VietJet going to put all of these planes? 

One long-gestating answer to that query is the many-billion dollar Long Thanh International Airport, which has been in discussion for years. Once built it will become Saigon's main international gateway, and it will be located in a neighboring province 40km east of the city. However no work has begun on the massive facility, though it appears that funds have finally been secured to begin clearing the necessary land in Dong Nai Province. I have little hope that the first phase will open in 2025, which is the current goal, and this is without even mentioning the terrible road connection to that area or the non-existent rail links.

One last aviation bit: Van Don International Airport, Vietnam's first privately-owned airport, is expected to open at the end of the year. Judging by the pictures in this article the facility appears to be in the middle of nowhere - it is actually in Quang Ninh Province, somewhat near Ha Long Bay, but I'm not sure what purpose it is meant to serve.  

Vietnam's Traffic Death Toll Continues to Mount

Travel articles about Vietnam always mention the crazy traffic here, and indeed it can be amusing, but it's also often deadly. Two accidents over the past week - one in Hanoi and one in Saigon - illustrated this yet again. 

In Hanoi, the driver of an Audi SUV went completely insane in a crash that has to be seen to be believed, injuring several motorbike drivers. Down in Saigon, a minivan driver plowed through a bunch of motorbikes, killing one driver, before ending up in a ditch. The drivers responsible for both accidents fled the respective scenes. 

These incidents follow on the heels of a container truck driver pulling a U-turn on a high-speed expressway since he missed his exit, all while a legal debate rages over a case in which a truck driver was jailed for slamming into the back of a van which was reversing down a highway after also missing an exit, leaving four people dead. 

In all the years I've been here I've never heard of any major efforts to improve driver's education, or serious steps taken to improve road awareness and compliance with rules. It's baffling, and infuriating when you consider the needless loss of life.

Vingroup Breaks Ground on University

In March, Vingroup, the real estate/tourism/automobile/hospital/etc. behemoth, announced that it would open a private university. The company already owns a series of primary schools.

Yesterday, according to Tuoi Tre, the giant broke ground on the project just east of Hanoi. Incredibly, the school will be called VinUni University, joining its other individual arms of Vinhomes, Vinpearl, VinFast, Vinmec and on and on. 

The campus and curriculum are being developed as part of a strategic partnership with Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, which are pretty heavy-hitters, continuing Vingroup's strategy of splashing out for renowned foreign expertise, as it did with VinFast for its car designs. The university may begin accepting students by 2020, and unlike with public infrastructure projects, I take Vingroup seriously when they announce a deadline.

Vietnam Ratifies the CPTPP

On Monday, Vietnam became the seventh country to ratify the CPTPP and its mouthful of an acronym. The trade pact replaced the TPP, which fell apart after Trump pulled the US out of it on one of his first days in office. 

Eleven countries are party to the CPTPP, and according to AFP it is now on track to come into force at the end of the year since more than half of these nations have fully signed on. As the US-China trade war rages, this will likely only make it easier for Vietnam to attract more foreign investment.

Extra Links:

Saigoneer Bookshelf: A Touch of Magical Realism in 'The Cemetery of Chua Village'

Living on edge: Vietnam's 'black canal' dwellers

Villagers hold army engineers in protest against solar power project


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