US jet makes history in former Saigon

For the first time since the war ended nearly 30 years ago, a US passenger jet has landed in Vietnam.

    The United Airlines flight from San Francisco carried 347 people

    United Airlines Flight 869 took off from San Francisco on Thursday and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, shortly after 10pm local time (1500 GMT) on Friday.

    It was the first US commercial plane to touch down at Tan Son Nhat International Airport since the wartime capital of South Vietnam fell to the communist North in 1975.

    VIPs emerging from the blue and white plane were greeted by Vietnamese women wearing traditional white tunics or ao dais, and holding lotus blossoms and silk lanterns.

    Improved relations

    US-Vietnam relations have improved considerably in recent years. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1995, and in 2001 they signed a landmark trade agreement, followed by an aviation pact last year.

    Many Vietnamese living in the US
    are likely to use the service

    United Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy two years ago, is betting the daily flight to Vietnam will be a big money-maker. The carrier says it expects air travel to Vietnam to grow by 10.5% a year in the next decade.

    Among the 347 people on the flight was 48-year-old Van Trinh, one of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese who fled the country in boats after the war.

    "I'm excited to see Vietnam now because 30 years is too long," she said before boarding the Boeing 747-400.

    Trinh is among 1 million ethnic Vietnamese who live in the United States, the largest population outside Vietnam. Many visit their homeland every year.

    Big market 

    "The United Airlines link between the two countries will not only serve Vietnamese nationals living in America, but I was told that 45 million Americans wanted to travel to Vietnam, and that is a very big market," said Nguyen Xuan Hien, Vietnam Airlines president and CEO.

    Meanwhile, Vietnam's state-owned airline has expressed interest in opening its own route to San Francisco by the end of next year, or early 2006.

    "The new United Airlines route is a new indicator of the strong relations between the United States and Vietnam," US ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.