A leading Vietnamese investor in Laos, the Hoang Anh Gia Lai Joint Stock Company (HAGL), has provided an interest-free loan to build an airport in the northern province of Huaphan.

The contract, worth more than 569 billion kip (just over US$74 million), was signed in Vientiane on Saturday by HAGL and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Director General of the ministry’s Department of Civil and Aviation, Mr Yakua Lopangkao, and Deputy General Director of HAGL, Mr Nguyen Van Minh, signed the agreement, witnessed by officials from both sides.

Construction of the Nongkhang airport and its related facilities is expected to be complete by 2015, Mr Minh said at the signing ceremony.

Work on the airport has already begun following a groundbreaking ceremony that took place three months ago, attended by Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung.

HAGL has not set any time limit for the loan repayment, Mr Minh added.

The airport will be able to accommodate larger aircraft of 70 to 100 seats, such as the ATR72 and Fokker70, or similar-sized planes.

The new facility will replace the existing airport, which is located about 40km away and can accommodate only 12-seat planes.

Mr Yakua said it has become necessary to build a larger airport in Huaphan to meet the growing need for air transport in the northern province. In particular, better facilities are needed for the growing number of tourist arrivals.

In recent years, the government has built and upgraded several provincial airports to handle the growing number of passengers, notably foreign tourists and businesspeople.

In 2010, the national carrier Lao Airlines recorded only about 500,000 passengers, but the figure jumped to about 900,000 customers in 2012 and is expected to exceed 1 million people this year.

In 2012 the number of tourist arrivals in Laos reached 3.3 million, up 22 percent compared to the previous year.

Lao Airlines operates flights to many Asean nations, including Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.

The airline has also begun regular flights to Seoul in a bid to attract more tourists from the Republic of Korea. China is another thriving market and Lao Airlines flies from Vientiane to Kunming and Guangzhou, and from Luang Prabang to Xieng Houng.

In October this year, Lao Airlines will begin direct flights to Myanmar as part of provisions for increased air connectivity within the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy countries.

Officials said recently Lao Airlines is also considering starting flights to Phnom Penh in Cambodia later this year in another move aimed at business growth amid surging air travel in the region.

Source: Vientiane Times
June 17, 2013