Tan Son Nhat International Airport has the design capacity of 25 million air travelers per year with two terminals and two runways in operation.
However, for recent years, its capacity has been far surpassed, which exacerbates the overcrowding status in the terminals and causes great displeasure to passengers.
Aircrafts have to linger in the air to wait for a parking space, while streets around the airport are chronically choked with congestion. Even worse, the aprons are often severely inundated after torrential rain, causing lengthy flight delays and urgent cancellations. The airport faces grave aviation-safety threats and could be shut down anytime it pours.
This alarming situation calls for an urgent solution from related Ministries and local administrations. If the design capacity is increased to 40 – 50 million air travelers per year, the airport will be more effectively operated.
Numerous plans have been proposed, but the public controversy mainly surrounded the clearance plan of a 21-hectare plot for national defense purposes and a 157-hectare golf course operated by a military-linked company since August 2015.
After negotiations, in February, the Ministry of Defense transferred 21 hectares for the Ministry of Transport to commence construction, increasing the capacity of Tan Son Nhat Airport to 38 million by 2019.
This plot is projected to be for expanding T2 terminal, constructing another 3-hectare mixed-use terminal serving up to 10 million passengers a year, and creating additional aircraft parking space for an estimation of 30 planes at a time. “Satellite” transfer stations are also offered as an attractive option in the plan. They will be located 500 meters from the airport, and could be built in six months at one third of the cost for a full terminal.
However, some deputies worry that even if this 21-hectare plot is effectively managed, the airport still have to cope with infrastructure overload in the near future. Only when the 157-hectare golf course, which was named Tan Son Nhat Golf Course and located to the north of the airport, is recalled can the overcrowding situation be largely solved in the long run.
This area of land, if agreed to be cleared, could be used for building an international terminal serving up to 15 million passengers a year, creating jet parking space for about 40 aircrafts at a time, and opening another entrance from Quang Trung road to reduce traffic pressure on Truong Son road, according to Mr. Phan Tuong, former General Director of Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Clearing the golf course could also tackle the flooding problem on the aprons of the airport, as the greens clogged up the natural northern drainage system of the airport.
Meanwhile, Minister of Transport Truong Quang Nghia argued that this plan held little likelihood due to noise pollution and the prohibitive cost in military and residential land clearance. He preferred the idea of building another international terminal situated in the south of the airport, and speed up the construction of Long Thanh Airport in Dong Nai city to reduce pressure on Tan Son Nhat Airport.
He explained that as Tan Son Nhat Airport lied in the cosmopolitan area of Ho Chi Minh city, its capacity could not be pushed further than 50 million passengers per year. Therefore, it is not necessary to clear the golf course for expansion. In the far vision, Long Thanh Airport would become the largest air hub in Vietnam, handling up to 100 million passengers a year when it is finished by 2025, which would be the solution for chronic capacity shortages. In terms of flooding problem, speeding up clearance work at the draining canals and building a reservoir to collect rainwater are enough.
The Prime Minister has ordered the Ministry of Defense to stop construction of housing and other proposed works at the course for a study of the airport expansion plans by foreign consultants. He said, “The Government will spare no efforts to expand the airport quickly, safely, efficiently at a low cost to reduce the current overloading and congestion at the airport.”