The history of Vietnam Airlines

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Last month marked 66 years since Vietnam Airlines took flight as Vietnam Civil Aviation.


Vietnamese Airlines
Photo: Getty Images

A Vietnam Airlines Airbus A350 passenger plane arrives to land at London Heathrow Airport in west London on May 10, 2020. – Britain may introduce a mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals to to stem the spread of the coronavirus as part of its plan to ease the lockdown, an association of airlines said on Saturday May 9, setting off alarm bells in an industry already hard hit by the global pandemic. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS/AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Vietnam Airlines has been the flag carrier of Vietnam since 1993, although its broader history goes back a bit further. Operating from hubs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the airline is now a key player in Asian aviation serving a wide range of short and long-haul destinations. With over 100 jets in its fleet, Vietnam Airlines has been a member of SkyTeam since 2010.

Vietnam Airlines can trace its roots back to 1956, when it came into being as Vietnam Civil Aviation. Despite hampered development due to the Vietnam War during the carrier’s first two decades of operation, it has since become a state-owned company with a large fleet and network.

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The early years

The nationalization of Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport led to the establishment of a company known as Vietnam Civil Aviation in January 1956. The carrier came into existence following the signing of a decree by the North-North government Vietnamese. In its early years, it operated as a civilian branch of the country’s air force.

Due to the support offered by the Soviet Union to North Vietnam during the conflict, many of Vietnam’s first civil aviation aircraft were of Soviet origin. These included the Lisunov Li-2 and Ilyushin Il-14, as well as the Czechoslovakian Aero Ae-45. The political climate at the time meant that American-built aircraft were not an option.



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After the war

The Vietnam War ended in April 1975. Not surprisingly, this heralded a period of expansion for the carrier, which was then known as the General Department of Civil Aviation in Vietnam. It began operating international flights, first serving Beijing, then adding Vientiane (Laos) to its network in 1976. About a third of the passengers it carried that year traveled on international services.

Over time, its international network has grown, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore. However, a trade embargo imposed by the United States on Vietnam meant that the airline’s fleet still consisted largely of Soviet aircraft. In some cases, these did not meet noise restrictions at airports like Hong Kong Kai Tak.



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Today, Vietnam Airlines has more than 100 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Now a state-owned flag carrier

The carrier eventually became able to use Western-built aircraft if it did so on a lease basis. This unlocked intercontinental destinations as far away as Paris and Melbourne. 1993 marked the completion of a restructuring process which saw it become the standard bearer of the Vietnamese state. However, it still initially bore the name of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam.

The US trade embargo finally ended in 1994, allowing Vietnam Airlines to completely overhaul its fleet by replacing its aging Soviet planes. Since then, the visual identity of the carrier has changed several times, going from a white livery to the turquoise paintwork we know today.

Entering the 21st century, Vietnam Airlines has continued to become a bigger and more connected airline. For example, it joined the SkyTeam alliance in June 2010. More recently, it made history by operating its first-ever scheduled service to the United States. This happened in November 2021, involving a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco,

What do you think of Vietnam Airlines? Have you flown many times with the Vietnamese flag carrier during its 66-year history? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


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