Nov 1, 2013

Seaplanes Serving Halong Sightseeing

Seaplanes could be recruited to add a new dimension to Halong Bay’s attraction options according to the province’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The department’s director, Ha Quang Long, said the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam’s (CAAV) was mulling over the idea of seaplanes that could be used to offer sightseeing trips over Halong and Bai Tu Long bays. They would take off from a spot close to where tourist boats anchor and have the flexibility of landing on the sea close to scenic spots in the bay if required.

“We think it is a great idea to use seaplanes for the development of tourism in Quang Ninh,” the director added.

The bays have more than 250 km of coastline and attract thousands of tourists annually drawn by the natural beauty of the World Heritage site.

Before the project can fly, it will require approval from the  government and possibly some changes to some aviation regulations to ensure security or safety regulations are not compromised when a seaplane is used for commercial passenger travel.

CAAV deputy director, Dinh Viet Thang, admitted seaplanes would be a new kind of tourism service for Vietnam.  They are relatively popular in the US and Canada where most of the small seaplanes are privately owned and used for recreational purposes, or as transport to holiday homes built on islands or next to remote  rivers and lakes.

Technically, the project will not use a seaplane, but what is correctly termed an amphibious aircraft that can use both conventional runways and water.

In ASEAN seaplanes are commonly used by governments and military for rescue or reconnaissance. They are fitted with floats and some have retractable landing gear for use on conventional runways.

An experiment in the use of amphibious aircraft commercially in Thailand failed first in Pattaya with a small airline called Yellow Birds and later in Phuket under different name Tropical Air. The venture used two Grummen G111 Albatross.

Thailand’s Civil Aviation Department was reluctant to issue an operating license for the aircraft claiming the technology was out-dated. There were also security considerations.

If the Vietnam plan is approved, amphibious aircraft could be operating commercially by late 2014, Halong Bay. Initially, Hai Au Company will import two planes, but the company would need to ensure there were enough pilots trained to operate the craft that require a different certification.

The company is most likely to use Cessna Grand Caravan 208B EX aircraft with a flight crew of two and seating for 12 passengers, that officials say could be used on both conventional and water runways.

The Grand Caravan was introduced in 1994 and with the upgrade to the EX model in 2012 the manufacturer says the Grand Caravan EX can be “modified for amphibious missions with floats provided by the US firm Wipaire Inc.”.

Actually Vietnam has its own seaplane, the A41 Factory VNS-41, that has been in service since 2005. It was the first amphibious microlight aircraft made in Vietnam built by the A41 Factory (officially Aircraft Repairing Company A-41) under the Air Force and Air Defense Department (Ministry of Defense) based on the Russian Che-22 “Korvet”.

It can carry two or three passengers with a flight range of four hours at a maximum height of 3,000 metres. It requires 200 to 300 metres of space to take off on water and just 50 to 70 metres on land.

The VNS-41 is used by the forestry department, but will also be marketed for sport, travel and commercial applications in the future.

Halong Bay officials gave no further details on the estimated cost of the sightseeing flights, length and scenic routes. Travel firms would need some time to factor the flights into their 2014 tour programmes and the company would need to negotiate commission and sales terms with the trade to make it a success in international markets.

During January to September this year, tourist arrivals to Quang Ninh province reached more than 6 million, a year-on-year rise of 10% including more than 1.8 million foreign tourists, up 20%, with over 2.9 million tourists staying overnight, up 24%.

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