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|CEOs, Vietjet’s Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao|
While women have long participated in the 116-year-old aviation industry as pilots and even airline CEOs, Vietjet’s Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao has made history in the traditionally male-dominated business: she is the only woman to have established and run her own major commercial airline. As such, she epitomises the values of the businesswomen that Forbes looked for this year – entrepreneurs who defy stereotypes and break down barriers.
Travel in Vietnam is currently booming, supported by its rapidly-growing middle class. The country’s airports handled 106 million passengers in 2018, up 13 per cent from the previous year. That number included 16 million foreign visitors, a 20 per cent jump from 2017. Anticipating further growth, Vietjet has ordered 386 new airplanes, including 200 from Boeing and 186 from Airbus.
Last week, the group added the world’s first 240-seat Airbus A321neo Airbus Cabin Flex to its fleet. The aircraft will feature reduced fuel consumption by a minimum of 16 per cent, reduced noise and emissions by up to 75 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, and will also give Vietjet more passengers per aircraft.
With 129 domestic and international routes, Vietjet currently operates a fleet with the world’s top technical reliability of 99.64 per cent.
The airline also owns one of the globe’s youngest and most modern fleets with an average age of only 2.7 years and optimal operating costs, which helps bring more reasonable flying opportunities for customers.
From just a handful of domestic routes when it launched, Vietjet has slowly expanded to 80 aircraft serving 120 destinations. “Our strategy is to expand to any regional market within a radius of 2,500km so we can create bases that cover half of the world’s population,” the president and CEO of Vietjet explained.
Thao, with a net worth of $2.5 billion, is the wealthiest self-made woman in Southeast Asia, and her company’s aggressive expansion is paying off. Vietjet shares have more than doubled since its 2017 initial public offering, giving it a market value of over $3 billion – the second-biggest in Southeast Asia after Singapore Airlines.
The ordering of new jets demonstrates Phuong Thao’s ambition to take advantage of a booming regional market for air travel and take Vietjet global, but succeeding will require overcoming Vietnam’s infrastructure difficulties, a global pilot shortage, and navigating Southeast Asia’s patchwork of aviation regulations.
However, Thao is undaunted. In addition to packing passengers more densely, Vietjet has been able to boost profits by buying planes cheaper in bulk using low-interest loans, then reselling them to leasing companies.
The female billionaire’s goal is to make history a second time by turning Vietjet into Vietnam’s first global airline.
“With our competitiveness in services, aircrafts, management capacity, costs, and ability to provide new services, I am completely confident that we can compete in other markets, such as in Europe or the US.”
Vietjet debuted on the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange in 2017 with a market capitalisation of $1.4 billion, and the group’s revenue climbed 27 per cent to VND54 trillion ($2.3 billion) in 2018. This year, Vietjet expects to grow even faster, projecting to carry 30 million passengers, up 30 per cent from last year. “We positioned Vietjet as a regional and international carrier from the very beginning,” explained Thao.
Vietjet is a fully-fledged member of International Air Transport Association. It was named Best Ultra Low-Cost Airline 2018-2019 and awarded the highest ranking for safety in 2018 and 2019 by AirlineRatings.com.