Vietnam Airlines has been experiencing significant losses in revenues. The national flag carrier is also paying many extraordinary expenses to perform missions to repatriate Vietnamese citizens stranded all over the world.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, Vietnam has welcomed back some 20,000 citizens who were studying, working, living, or traveling abroad. As with previous repatriation efforts, the responsibility lies mostly on the shoulders of the national flag carrier. It is not the first time that a repatriation flight was initially assigned to a different airline but eventually conducted by Vietnam Airlines.
Behind those flights are not mere numbers, but many brave and experienced crew members, meticulous preparations, and many anticipated and unexpected expenses.
In fear of the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries and territories have restricted or closed their borders, thereby preventing foreign airlines from landing. Hence, Vietnam Airlines’ repatriation flights have become more difficult and costly since they’re unusual flights with complicated and unfamiliar routes. Compared to a normal commercial flight, a repatriation flight can cost up to VND 10 billion (~USD 450,000). This is due to the fact that the carrier must assemble elite resources to ensure the highest standards of safety and pandemic-prevention, while covering unexpected expenses.
To answer questions from our readers, Heritage introduces some examples below.
The “new normal” expenses:
– Cleaning and disinfecting the entire aircraft before departure and after return trips; and extra ground services at departure/arrival and return airports. Extra expenses are incurred to meet strict pandemic-prevention standards.
– Protective gear, gloves, medical masks, and antibacterial wipes for both flight crews and passengers.
– Extra equipment for preventive healthcare, flight supplies, and materials.
Some specific flights face unusual expenses, such as:
– Installing extra medical equipment to assist patients on the repatriation flight from Equatorial Guinea, including air purifiers, ventilators, nebulizers, monitors, mechanical ventilation equipment, oxygen tanks, stretchers, and field beds; setting up positive-pressure rooms and PVC curtains to separate the three cabin compartments in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
– Covering all seats with plastic and preparing alcohol wipes along with personal-care necessities on flights carrying infected citizens from Wuhan and Equatorial Guinea;
– Hiring lawyers and consultants to support urgent applications for licenses to fly to the U.S.A and Canada so as to legally rescue Vietnamese citizens (up to USD 30,000 per flight);
+ Paying high prices for ground services, fire trucks rentals, fuel refills, airport meals etc. For example, expenses for a rescue flight from the U.S.A included over USD 62,000 for ground services, nearly USD 93,000 for fuel, and USD 15,000 for food and cutlery.
– Due to the non-commercial nature of repatriation flights, all outbound planes are “ferry”, or without passengers, meaning that the one-way revenue must cover the round-trip expenses.
– The business class seats of inbound flights are normally empty, reserved for the crew or emergency cases. This costs the airline revenues from business class ticket sales.
– The number of crew members is twice to three times higher than usual. One flight had to carry 32 crew members since they were denied entry upon arrival, requiring an almost non-stop round trip.
– The entire crew must be off work to carry out the regulated 14 days of quarantine upon returning from the flight;
– During this quarantine period, the crew’s expenses and salary are paid by Vietnam Airlines;
– Some aircraft must stay on the ground for two to three days for maintenance, HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) replacement, and disinfection before they can fly again.