The airline's pre-tax profit fell to 8.1 million dollars last year, down from 14 million dollars a year earlier, it said late Tuesday.

The carrier also cited "epidemic outbreaks" for its profit fall, an apparent reference to the global A (H1N1) swine flu pandemic.

But VNA noted it had still posted profits as other global airlines suffered losses in 2009, one of the worst years on record for airlines.

"Vietnam Airlines still earned profits" while increasing its fleet and opening new domestic routes, it said.

VNA's revenue for the year reached 1.3 billion dollars, against 1.56 billion dollars reported a year earlier. The 2009 figure was four percent higher than the target, it said.

The airline said it transported 9.3 million passengers -- up from 8.8 million the previous year. One third of the passengers were foreigners, it said.

Vietnam Airlines is targeting 11 million passengers this year.

The International Air Transport Association, an industry group, has said global passenger demand is expected to grow this year after a fall during a difficult 2009 for the industry.

Shares of Asia's largest carrier, Japan Airlines (JAL), have plunged this week on fears the carrier is preparing for a court-backed bankruptcy filing.

VNA said that on Wednesday it would begin direct flights to Osaka five times a week to replace previous cooperative flights with JAL.

Vietnam Airlines expects to triple its fleet of 50 aircraft by 2020, and officials have said it is seeking to become one of the region's leading carriers.

Agence France Presse - January 13, 2010