The construction of the second airport of Ho Chi Minh City is set to finally begin next month in Long Thanh, 40 kilometres east of Vietnam’s southern metropolis. Currently scheduled to start operating in 2025 upon completion of the first phase of the project, the Long Thanh International Airport is to become a major international transit hub and it will take up the overflow from Saigon’s overloaded Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Formally approved by the government last week, the project’s first phase will cost an estimated $4.6 billion. It will involve constructing a 4km runway and one terminal with an annual capacity of 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tonnes of cargo.
The plan to build the airport was first announced in 2004, only to suffer a long series of delays ever since. From start to finish, the project will likely span four decades – the third and final phase now expected to last until 2040 – but when finally completed, the airport will have four passenger terminals and four runways, and it will be able to serve 100 million passengers and 5 million tonnes of cargo every year.
It will cover more than 5,500 hectares, part of the reason why the airport needs to be located so far away from Ho Chi Minh City. It will also straddle six local communes and its construction will require around 4,800 households to be torn down, with an estimated 13,500 residents to be relocated in the process.
The airport will be shaped to resemble a lotus when seen from a plane, and it will feature the flower throughout the design. While certainly eye-catching, the design has raised concerns that it may increase the overall cost as curved buildings are often more challenging technically. The airport’s huge lotus-themed domes are also likely to cause higher electric bills.
As for Tan Son Nhat, Saigon’s current main airport, it has been operating far above its designed capacity in recent years. With over 40 million passengers served in 2019 alone, it is Vietnam’s busiest airport, but at a mere 5.45 sq. km it is also one of the smallest airports in the world for a city this size. Built as a tiny airport with unpaved runways by the French colonial government in the 1930s, it grew to a buzzing military base during the American War and was eventually engulfed by Saigon’s urban sprawl, which made any large-scale expansion of the airport virtually impossible.
In the times when major airports have mostly moved out of city centres, landing at Tan Son Nhat is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss. If approaching the city from the east, get an A seat if you can, fasten your seatbelts and take in the great views of Ho Chi Minh City.