|CEO Dang Tat Thang (right) receiving the delivery of Bamboo Airways' first Boeing Dreamliners |
The year 2020 was a difficult and challenging year, with most airlines reporting losses. What is the reason behind the upstream of Bamboo Airways?
The year 2020 was arduous not only for aviation but also for the economy. However, I think that the first success of Bamboo was that the leadership promptly made appropriate decisions from the beginning of the year, such as stopping international flights even before being requested by the government and early concentration on domestic resources.
Amid challenges, we still saw an opportunity. For instance, by the end of 2020, Bamboo had more than 30 aircraft and added a new Embraer 195 aircraft line, filling unexploited routes to a variety of destinations that were inaccessible due to the lack of small aircraft.
When I went to the US to receive Boeing 787-9, from Los Angeles to Charleston, I transited twice by Embraer aircraft. The comfort and soothing experience on these aircraft impressed me immediately. And as soon as I landed, I called the deputy general director and asked if Embraer 195 could fly to Con Dao? He said yes, then we made urgent plans, and within a few months officially launched direct routes to Con Dao.
During the pandemic, increasing flight routes proved to be the right decision. When the market recovers, we will have a well-rounded system in place to serve the needs of our customers. Bamboo's goal is to be able to connect flights from any two provinces in Vietnam by 2021, allowing all to benefit and the economy to develop. Our fleet will increase to at least 50 aircraft by 2021.
Bamboo Airways' signature 5-star flight-resort-golf packages have also been extensively marketed, combined with FLC Group's ecosystem, continuing to affirm our pioneering position in this sector. After the recent Lunar New Year, our series of fly-resort-to-Quy Nhon combo was launched to be almost immediately booked full.
Not only developing the fleet size, Bamboo has also invested tremendously in upgrading the existing fleet, with the most recent purchase of advanced backup engine LEAP-1A from manufacturer CFM International.
During this era, only a few airlines in the world could both increase their flight network, aircraft fleet, and market share while still ensuring safety and on-time performance like Bamboo Airways.
Bamboo Airways’ newest announcement that it currently has the most extensive domestic flight network has been drawing a lot of attention. How do you feel about this?
The numbers are updated every day of every week by the airports and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.
At the moment, Bamboo's number of routes opening ticket sales is at the top of all domestic airlines. There was also a week when Bamboo had the highest number of flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – the busiest route of all – among all airlines.
Bamboo has announced the goal of reaching a 30 per cent share of the domestic market this year. Is this target not overly positive?
I don't think this goal is too ambitious. It is totally feasible. In 2019, Bamboo had nearly 10 per cent market share but by the end of 2020, the figure nearly doubled. An increase of 30 per cent this year would only be an approximately 5 per cent increase, which seems within reason.
We also received great praise from passengers flying Bamboo, and the company will continue to upgrade service quality towards the 5-star rating. Regarding the flight network, three years ago, when Bamboo came into operation, we only had 10-20 routes but it has gradually increased to 40 routes and to 57 now.
Simply put, many people like to fly Bamboo because of our punctuality, modern planes, wide network of routes, affordable prices, good service, and friendly staff.
Bamboo is shooting for a 5-star airline rating, but the standard is extremely stringent, and no Vietnamese airline has so far achieved this rating. How close are you to this goal?
Reaching 5-star international standards is one of the major goals of Bamboo in 2021. In the near future, Bamboo will sign an official cooperation agreement with a reputable consultant from the UK to plan out a specific strategy for this by 2022-2023. This unit used to support other major 5-star airlines in the world such as Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad.
Bamboo has its own way of progressing, just like the way we proved sceptics wrong about our intensive schedule of opening flights.
Since then, Bamboo has proved that we can overcome difficulties by becoming the first private airline to put into operation a wide-body aircraft, being the most punctual airline in Vietnam, the first airline to open six direct flights to Con Dao, the first private airline to launch a Business Lounge at key airports, and making it among the handful of Vietnamese airlines receiving an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) by the International Air Transport Association's (IATA).
The IATA vice chairman himself visited to issue the certification and commented that it was rare for an airline that was operating for only a year to achieve the IOSA certification.
Following the miracle year of 2020 for Bamboo, what are your new goals for 2021?
The year 2021 will offer many opportunities and even more challenges. Along with the availability of vaccines in the world and Vietnam, IATA estimates that the international aviation market will recover slightly in the second and third quarters. Bamboo's two major goals are to occupy 30 per cent of the domestic market and become a 5-star airline.
The third one is to improve the digitalisation of our operations, becoming the leading digitalised airline in the region and over the world. We were born in the period of rapid technological development and are able to utilise experiences from successful operations in the industry to timely and promptly improve and upgrade technology in our operations.
Bamboo Airways is expected to digitise both our internal system and our passenger-facing operations. In other words, in a single one-stop application, customers will be able to buy flight tickets, vacations, as well as edit their information and schedules, among others.
On the other hand, Bamboo Airways’ employees and leaders need only the Bamboo Portal to handle all tasks, minimise time and heavy paperwork, and improve labour efficiency.
Fourth, Bamboo will continue to offer many of the latest, most convenient, and flexible products with packages and extensive flight-vacation combos in cooperation with major resort partners outside FLC, increasing brand coverage to the whole nation.
While we are focusing on the domestic market, we have never stopped preparing resources for international flights. Direct flights to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are still getting ready to take off as early as the second quarter of 2021, if authorised by the government.
We are also preparing to launch direct flights to Australia and China in Asia; Germany and the Czech Republic in Europe; the US in the Americas, and so on, which could be launched any time. As you can see, in 2020 a big milestone for Bamboo was to be licensed to transport passengers and goods to and from the US.
At the end of 2020, the aviation market has welcomed a rookie, Vietravel Airlines. Is Bamboo concerned about the competition?
We definitely welcome not only Vietravel but any other new airlines to the market as we believe there is still ample space.
For example, Thailand has a smaller population than Vietnam but they have three times as many regular airlines than us – they have 13 regular airlines and 10 chartered airlines while we currently have the three main airlines, and Vietravel making it four.
The more airlines there are, the more the market will compete and grow, with the more competent ones rising above.
When Bamboo first entered the market, we not only brought a wave of new services but also brought into the scene new working procedures and safety standards for Vietnamese aviation in general.
When Bamboo made our first step in the market, people could clearly see that the overall quality of customer care and services had been increased. A fair competitive and customer-oriented market is conducive to development.
We are very proud that while the airline grew rapidly, even during the pandemic when the number of flights increased by 40 per cent, we did not make any compromises over safety and punctuality, reaching an on-time performance of 97 per cent.