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Thursday, February 5, 2015

VietJet Air wants to grow aggressively, gets money to do it, needs even more money

A VJ A320 in typical company livery. There are several planes
acting as flying billboards, with large advertiser logos.
VietJet Air (IATA code: VJ) is not the first privately-owned airline in Vietnam, but has been the most successful up until now, and has aspirations of continuing its success in a big way.

This is even more notable in that it's primary competitor is state-run Vietnam Airlines (VNA), with a deep war chest of funds to rely on. Most other private competitors have folded shortly after commencing service.

What sets VJ apart is its low cost carrier (LLC) concept, versus VNA's traditional full-service. VJ charges a very low base fare for the plane ticket itself (sometimes as low as US$0), then has fees for almost everything else; ticketing, preselecting seats, purchasing food and drinks on board, even just the mere act of paying in any form incurs a fee.

Leaked photo alledgedly from a bikini
photoshoot onboard a VJ aircraft.
Image source: Tuoi Tre News
Its exuberance has also drawn the ire of the socially conservative Vietnamese government, their most famous incident being an unauthorized in-flight bikini show in 2012 that lead to a nearly US$1,000 in fines. More recently in late 2014, photos were leaked from a purported racy photoshoot that VJ has since disclaimed as unauthorized and not part of an official company promotion.

The company currently has 20 Airbus A320 aircraft operating 150 flights a day to every major city in Vietnam, and several smaller communities, but that's still not enough.

Last year, VJ committed to acquiring up to another 93 A320-family aircraft from Airbus for up to US$9 billion at list prices... even though airlines usually don't pay full price, that's a lot of planes for a young startup company. The order includes 14 current A320s, 43 more-efficient A320neos, and 7 of the larger A321s (the same aircraft VNA uses as its workhorse), with the remaining as options for additional aircraft.

To assist VJ's fleet expansion plans, TPBank of Hanoi has extended a US$400 million line of credit for their initial set of aircraft. This is on top of a US$21 million credit for the down payment of the Airbus order.

VJ is also mulling a bond sale to raise US$200-300 million. as well as an initial public offering (IPO) aimed to raise another US$500-800 million.

Plans for international long-haul expansion have been tempered to focus on strengthening it's domestic network and growing its regional footprint. VJ has decided to take the strategically safer growth plan and temporarily hold off on acquiring widebody aircraft for long-haul services. 

Delaying the start of long-haul service on widebody jets is probably a smart play, especially in light of Japan's Skymark Airlines (BC) declaring bankruptcy, due mainly, according to experts, to its order of the massive Airbus A380 to start Tokyo-New York service, even though BC was primarily a domestic airline using single-aisle aircraft.

2015 should prove an interesting year for VJ, as well as VNA if VJ continues on its trajectory of growth and revenue.

What has been your experience with VJ... would you recommend them? If you haven't flown VJ, would you give them a change, or would you rather stick to traditional-service VNA?

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