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Phu Quoc Airport: rapid international growth as AirAsia arrives

Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam has emerged as a popular destination and is experiencing rapid growth in international visitors. AirAsia will help Phu Quoc further raise its international profile when the Malaysian LCC launches flights to Phu Quoc from Kuala Lumpur in early Nov-2018. 

AirAsia will significantly improve connectivity between Phu Quoc and several markets in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australia. Connectivity with Europe improved significantly in late 2017 when Bangkok Airways launched services to Phuket from Bangkok. 

A new but small international airport opened on Phu Quoc in late 2012. International flights began in 2014 but accounted for only 12% of total passenger traffic in 2017. China has so far been the biggest international market for Phu Quoc and is one that is growing rapidly.

SUMMARY

  • The Phu Quoc market has quadrupled in size since a new airport opened on the popular resort island in late 2012.
  • The new airport has so far mainly attracted additional capacity on domestic routes, primarily from Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, but is gradually growing its international traffic.
  • A new international terminal is proposed that will boost Phu Quoc Airport's capacity from 4 million to 14 million annual passengers.
  • AirAsia is launching services to Phu Quoc from its Kuala Lumpur hub in early Nov-2018 and will become the fourth foreign airline serving the Phu Quoc market year-round.
  • Vietnamese airlines do not currently operate scheduled international services from Phu Quoc but serve the Phu Quoc-China market with regular charters, and VietJet is planning to launch scheduled services from Phu Quoc to Seoul in Dec-2018.

Up and coming destinations and fast growing secondary airports in Southeast Asia will be a topic of a panel discussion at the CAPA Asia Aviation Summit in Singapore on 8/9-Nov-2018. For more details on the summit click here

AirAsia to help Phu Quoc raise its international profile 

In Aug-2018 Air Asia announced plans to launch four weekly services to Phu Quoc from Kuala Lumpur on 2-Nov-2018. AirAsia will become the fourth foreign airline operating year-round scheduled services to Phu Quoc, joining Asiana, Bangkok Airways and China Southern

AirAsia should be able to stimulate demand in Phu Quoc’s small but fast growing international market. LCCs account for nearly 70% of domestic seat capacity at Phu Quoc, but FSCs currently account for almost all the international seat capacity.

Phu Quoc only handled 361,000 international passengers in 2017, compared to 2.6 million domestic passengers. However, Vietnam expects rapid international growth at Phu Quoc over the next several years as the island starts to become better known among international travellers.

Second terminal proposed for Phu Quoc 

Vietnam’s IPP Group submitted a proposal earlier this year to develop a second terminal and second runway at Phu Quoc International Airport, which is currently part of the Airports Corporation of Vietnam (ACV) portfolio. The proposed second terminal would be used for international services and have capacity to handle 10 million passengers per annum. 

The airport’s current capacity is 4 million passengers per annum. The existing terminal was recently expanded by ACV, resulting in a 50% increase in capacity from an initial 2.65 million passengers per annum. However, the terminal is still relatively small, and will likely again be operating at capacity by the end of 2019.

Phu Quoc is on pace to reach 4 million passengers in 2019. Phu Quoc International Airport has been growing faster than expected since it opened at the end of 2012. Vietnam initially projected that the airport would reach its initial capacity of 2.65 million passengers in 2020, but this was reached (and exceeded) three years earlier in 2017. 

The airport only reached 1 million annual passengers in 2014 and surpassed 2 million passengers in 2016. Traffic grew by nearly 40% in 2017.

Vietnam expects 30% annual economic growth for Phu Quoc over the next several years as the island develops. Tourism dominates the local economy and total visitor numbers to Phu Quoc are expected to reach 5 million within the next few years. While domestic tourists still account for an overwhelming majority, the international share has been growing and could reach 50%.

Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s fifth largest airport 

Phu Quoc is the fifth largest domestic airport in Vietnam based on current seat capacity and is also the fifth largest international airport. For both categories, Ho Chi Minh is number one, followed by Hanoi, Da Nang and Nha Trang.

However, Phu Quoc has a very small share of international capacity compared to the other top five airports. International accounts for more than 40% of total capacity at the four largest airports in Vietnam whereas at Phu Quoc it accounts for less than 10%. 

This indicates that the Phu Quoc international market is now relatively underserved, which ACV and the Vietnamese government are aiming to resolve by attracting more international services. 

Vietnam top 10 airports based on weekly seat capacity: 17-Sep-2018 to 23-Sep-2018

Rank Airport Code

Domestic

seats

International

seats 

Total seats
1 SGN 476,811 357,679 834,490
2 HAN 327,420 251,492 578,912
3 DAD 151,947 125,307 277,254
4 CXR 72,629 59,454 132,083
5
Phu Quoc International Airport
PQC 61,879 5,472 67,351
6 HPH 45,280 3,600 48,880
7 VII 40,446 N/A 40,446
8 HUI 36,526 N/A 36,526
9 DLI 33,930 1,800 35,730
10 VCA 23,650 N/A 23,650

Phu Quoc market has grown rapidly since new airport opened six years ago

Phu Quoc International Airport opened in Dec-2012, replacing a much smaller airport which was located at a different site on Phu Quoc Island. The old airport, Phu Quoc Duong Dang, could only accommodate regional aircraft.

Phu Quoc Dong Dang was the seventh largest domestic airport in Vietnam before it was closed. The new airport immediately became the fifth largest domestic airport as domestic capacity at Phu Quoc increased by around 60% within the first month of the new airport opening. 

See related report: Phu Quoc sees surge of new flights, led by VietJet and Vietnam Airlines, as new airport opens

Phu Quoc overtook Hue and Vinh, which had been the fifth and sixth largest airports in Vietnam. Hue is now the eighth largest and Vinh is now the seventh largest. Haiphong, which had been the eighth largest airport in Vietnam and was slightly smaller than Phu Quoc Dong Dang in 2012, is now the sixth largest airport in Vietnam. 

Narrowbody jet operations have been a game changer 

The 60% increase in capacity at Phu Quoc in winter 2012/2013 was driven by Vietnam Airlines upgauging most of its Phu Quoc services from ATR 72s to A321s and the launch of services from VietJet. 

VietJet launched operations in late 2011 but was not able to serve Phu Quoc in its first year because A320s could not be accommodated at the old airport. Vietnam Airlines was also able to launch services to Hanoi as the new airport opened, supplementing services on the much shorter Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh route.

Phu Quoc-Hanoi is too long a route for turboprops but had been served from the old airport by the independent regional airline Air Mekong using CRJ900 regional jets. Air Mekong relied heavily on the Phu Quoc market and it could not survive the new competition after the new airport opened. Air Mekong ceased operations in early 2013. 

Vietnam Airlines' subsidiary Jetstar Pacific became the second LCC to serve the Phu Quoc market in late 2013 when it launched services from Ho Chi Minh. 

Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s fourth largest domestic route 

Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh is now the fourth largest domestic route in Vietnam – and the largest outside the triangle connecting the main three cities of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang. 

Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh is served with up to 140 weekly services, generating up to 26,000 weekly one-way seats. In the first year the new airport opened there were up to 7,000 weekly one-way seats on the Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh route.

Capacity has increased steadily over the past six years but fluctuates significantly depending on the time of year. Vietnam Airlines, VietJet and Jetstar Pacific all add services to Phu Quoc during holiday periods and the island’s dry season.

Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh total one-way weekly seat capacity: Sep-2011 to Sep-2018 

Vietnam Airlines and VietJet have had a similar level of capacity on the Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh route for the past five years. This summer, for the first time, Jetstar Pacific has also had a similar capacity on the Phu Quoc-Ho Chi Minh route. However, the exact share for each airline fluctuates, depending on the week.

Phu Quoc-Hanoi route has also grown rapidly 

Ho Chi Minh accounts for more two thirds of total domestic capacity at Phu Quoc. Hanoi accounts for nearly another 30%.

Phu-Quoc Hanoi is now served by all three domestic competitors, with up to 80 weekly services (although most of the year there are 50 weekly services on average). There are currently 10,000 to 15,000 weekly one-way seats on the Phu Quoc-Hanoi route (depending on the time of year), compared to only 1,000 to 2,000 seats in the first year after the new airport opened. 

Phu Quoc is also currently linked domestically with Can Tho and Haiphong. Can Tho, which is located only 250km from Phu Quoc on the mainland, is served by Vietnam Airlines with one to two daily ATR 72 services (some are operated by the turboprop subsidiary VASCO). 

Haiphong is only served by VietJet with three to seven weekly A320 frequencies. The Haiphong service has only been offered since May-2016.

Vietnam Airlines in Mar-2018 unveiled plans to start serving Phu Quoc from Nha Trang with three weekly A321 services. However, while Vietnam Airlines initially loaded the new Phu Quoc-Nha Trang service with a 1-Sep-2018 commencement date, it is still not being sold. 

Nha Trang and Da Nang are the largest airports in Vietnam that are not yet linked with Phu Quoc and will likely both be connected to the island at some point. 

International services started in 2014 but have grown slowly 

International services at Phu Quoc have expanded rapidly over the past two years but only account for less than 10% of the airport’s total seat capacity.

While Phu Quoc expects continued rapid growth in international traffic, the airport will remain primarily domestic. Phu Quoc is a very popular destination for domestic tourists – and domestic tourism is growing as Vietnam’s economy expands (along with income levels). 

A large proportion of international visitors to Phu Quoc also fly to the island on domestic services. The direct international services are appealing, given Phu Quoc’s visa free status, but a large proportion of visitors combine Phu Quo with other destinations in Vietnam. 

Phu Quoc handled its first international service in Feb-2014, which was a charter from Russia. Scheduled international services began in Nov-2014 when Vietnam Airlines launched services from Phu Quoc to Siem Reap and Singapore.

First two international routes struggled

Both of the initial scheduled international routes were short-lived and were suspended in 2015. Singapore was served with two weekly A321 frequencies for nine months, and Siem Reap was served with up to three weekly ATR 72 frequencies for one year. 

See related report: Vietnam Airlines launches international services from Phu Quoc. Island airport is growing rapidly

Siem Reap and Singapore struggled as they were not aligned with the Phu Quoc’s largest source markets.

Siem Reap was a niche service relying on foreigners looking to combine Siem Reap and Phu Quoc – not a very common holiday combination. The route was relatively cheap to operate as Siem Reap-Phu Quoc is a short flight and turboprops were used, but the load factor was too low, making the service difficult to sustain.

Phu Quoc-Singapore is also a very small local market. The objective was to attract transit passengers beyond Singapore, but Vietnam Airlines does not offer many connections from Singapore, which made it difficult to fill up the A321 that was deployed on the route.

International services that have since been launched are better aligned with source markets and have therefore been more successful.  

Phu Quoc-China market grows rapidly 

China Southern became the first foreign airline to operate scheduled services to Phu Quoc in Jul-2016, when it launched three weekly services from Guangzhou. China Southern has since maintained the service on a year-round basis and earlier this year upgraded the route to daily. (A daily service was initially operated in Feb-2018 on a seasonal basis and became permanent in early Jul-2018, according to OAG schedule data.)

Lucky became the second Chinese airline to operate scheduled services to Phu Quoc in Dec-2016, when the LCC launched two weekly services from Kunming. The service operated for one year, until Dec-2017. Lucky then did not serve Phu Quoc for seven months, but it resumed a seasonal service on the Kunming-Phu Quoc route in late Jul-2018 with up to three weekly frequencies.

Donghai Airlines also launched a twice weekly seasonal service to Phu Quoc from Shenzhen in Dec-2017. Phu Quoc was Donghai’s first scheduled international destination, but the Shenzhen-Phu Quoc route has not been operated since May-2018, according to OAG data. 

There are currently approximately 2,000 weekly one-way seats in the Phu Quoc-China market. This figure is somewhat misleading, since it does not include charters.

Vietnam Airlines, VietJet and Jetstar Pacific operate charter services from Phu Quoc to China, serving multiple Chinese destinations on a seasonal basis. Chinese airlines have also operated some charters to Phu Quoc over the past few years.

Phu Quoc-China scheduled one-way seat capacity by airline: Jul-2016 to Oct-2018

South Korea service has been important contributor 

China is the largest source market for Vietnam and the market has been growing fast. Chinese visitor numbers to Vietnam increased by 49% in 2017 and by 28% in the first eight months of 2018.

South Korea is Vietnam’s second largest source market and has been growing even faster than China. Korean visitor numbers from Vietnam increased by 56% in 2017 and another 52% in the first seven months of 2018. Asiana has operated a twice weekly service from Seoul to Phu Quoc since Oct-2017. 

VietJet recently unveiled plans to launch a daily service from Phu Quoc to Seoul on 22-Dec-2018. VietJet's low fares should be able to stimulate demand and drive a large increase in the number of South Koreans visiting Phu Quoc. VietJet is offering return fares between Seoul and Phu Quoc that start at close to USD300 including taxes. 

Vietnam Airlines was earlier reportedly planning to serve the Phu Quoc-Seoul route, but it is unlikely that it will now launch the service, given the competition from VietJet. Vietnam Airlines has not operated any scheduled international services at Phu Quoc since suspending Singapore and Siem Reap in 2015.

Europe is a key source market 

Phu Quoc has also attracted significant volumes of European tourists. Some have arrived on direct flights that have operated on a seasonal basis in the past few years, from Russia, the UK, Italy and Scandinavia. 

The Russian market has been served with charters from Russian operators to Moscow and a few secondary cities. The UK and Swedish markets have been served with a regular seasonal service from TUI.

TUI has offered a winter only service to Phu Quoc from Stockholm since early 2016. Only one frequency has generally been operated, but TUI is offering an increased schedule on the Stockholm-Phu Quoc route next winter with two or three frequencies during peak periods.

TUI also operated one weekly service from London Gatwick to Phu Quoc last winter (Nov-2017 to Mar-2018) and will offer the same service this winter. In addition, TUI has operated some ad hoc services to Phu Quoc from Copenhagen, Helsinki and Oslo.

The Italian airline Neos launched a seasonal once weekly service from Milan to Phu Quoc in Dec-2017 with support from the Italian tour company Alpitour. The Neos flight operated last winter as part of a tag with Phuket and this winter will operate as part of a tag with Yangon. A nonstop product has only been provided in one direction (generally from Milan, although for part of this winter the flight will operate as a nonstop service from Phu Quoc and as a one-stop service from Milan). 

Bangkok Airways helps Phu Quoc attract more Europeans 

Most European tourists continue to travel to Phu Quoc via domestic services. While the visa-free option is only available to passengers arriving on international services, a large proportion of European visitors prefer to combine Phu Quoc with other Vietnamese destinations.

Over the past year a relatively large share of European visitors have also travelled to Phu Quoc via Bangkok on Bangkok Airways. Bangkok Airways launched four weekly ATR 72 services from Bangkok to Phu Quoc in late Oct-2017 and is upgrading the route to daily in late Oct-2018.

Bangkok Airways codeshares with several European airlines that serve Bangkok, as well as all three big Gulf airlines, which rely mainly on Europeans to fill their Bangkok services. Bangkok Airways has been able to attract Europeans who are keen to visit Phu Quoc but not mainland Vietnam.

Bangkok Airways also offers connections to Phu Quoc from other Southeast Asian countries and South Asia – on its own metal as well as through several airline partners. 

AirAsia to help Phu Quoc attract more Southeast Asian tourists 

Phu Quoc has not yet attracted large volumes of visitors from other Southeast Asian countries. However, this could change when AirAsia launches services to Phu Quoc.

AirAsia will offer connections throughout Southeast Asia and should be able to stimulate demand in potential new source markets. AirAsia stated, in announcing the Phu Quoc service, that it will offer a one-stop product to Phu Quoc from 20 cities in 10 countries – Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand

“We hope to contribute to the social and economic development of Phu Quoc through the power of connectivity”, AirAsia (Malaysia) head of commercial Spencer Lee stated. “We look forward to working with the local government to develop Phu Quoc into a world class tourist destination.”

Phu Quoc has huge international potential 

AirAsia will initially operate four weekly services from Kuala Lumpur. However, the AirAsia Group will be keen to upgrade the route to daily if demand is sufficient. The group could also potentially add a service to Phu Quoc from its Bangkok hub if the Kuala Lumpur service proves successful. 

Phu Quoc will also likely attract more scheduled international services from VietJet, in addition to the recently announced Seoul service. The fast growing LCC already operates several scheduled international routes from Vietnam’s three main international airports and needs to expand its offering at secondary airports, given the infrastructure constraints at the main airports and its huge order book. 

Phu Quoc will also likely attract international routes from the Vietnamese start-up hybrid airline Bamboo Airways. Bamboo plans to launch services by the end of 2018 and to focus mainly on the international market.

See related report: Vietnam int'l aviation grows 20+%. Vietjet, Bamboo Airways accelerate

Vietnam is investing heavily in developing tourism, including at Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc has the potential to emerge as a major international gateway over the next decade.  

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