HO CHI MINH CITY -- Tan Son Nhat International Airport is adding a runway, two terminals and extra aircraft aprons in an upgrade designed to let Vietnam's busiest hub handle 40 million to 50 million passengers annually.
The government gave the green light for the expansion after the Defense Ministry agreed to clear some of its operations out of the airport, as well as from Noi Bai and Danang international airports, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.
Tan Son Nhat initially will add the runway and aprons to raise its annual capacity to 38 million passengers by 2019.
A public controversy surrounded 21 hectares taken over for flight training by the military after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. And 157 hectares were used for a golf course by a military-linked company in 2005.
Land clearance has begun for the planned Long Thanh International Airport, some 50km from Ho Chi Minh City, but this larger aviation hub will not be operational until 2025. The military therefore has faced pressure from academics and others to relinquish its land at Tan Son Nhat for civil use.
Tan Son Nhat is expected to serve over 2.5 million passengers between Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, Vietnam's Lunar New Year period. The airport handles some 800 flights with 123,000 passengers daily during this peak holiday time.
Rapid growth in air travel as well as the number of airlines in recent years has stressed the country's aviation infrastructure. Tan Son Nhat serves 40% of all fliers in Vietnam, and is particularly vulnerable to flooding and congested approach roads. The aviation authority said more than 15.8% of flights in the first half of 2016 were delayed. The overloaded facility handled 32 million passengers in 2016, a 28% increase, surpassing its design capacity of 20 million.
Complementing the urgent airport upgrade, Ho Chi Minh City is embarking on 80 projects costing a total of $1.7 billion to alleviate traffic congestion. Six of these relate to airport access. Other anti-congestion plans include roadside traffic density displays, messaging systems and adjusted working hours.