Vietnam’s government has approved plans to expand its air network to major markets including Australia, China, Europe and the United States starting from this year.

According to the plan, Vietnam Airlines will go through with its proposal to open non-stop services to the U.S., starting with direct flights to the west coast in 2018. The national carrier is considering between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The U.S. proposal was revealed a couple of years ago and received much excitement, given busy travel between the countries. The U.S. is the fourth largest source of foreign visitors to Vietnam, with more than 614,000 people coming in 2017, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to the General Statistics Office.

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus said in September 2016 that it had signed an MoU with Vietnam Airlines to deliver 10 A350-900 aircraft, which will be used for non-stop flights to the U.S.

But the giant economy across the Pacific is just part Vietnam's sky plan.

For its neighbor China, Vietnam is set to open dozens of new flights by 2020.

The new routes will connect Can Tho, Da Lat, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Hue, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc Island of Vietnam with at least 17 Chinese destinations: Changchun, Chongqing, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guilin, Guiyang, Haikou, Hainan, Harbin, Lanzhou, Ningbo, Shenyang, Wuhan, Xi'an, Xiamen, Xishuangbanna and Zhengzhou.

Current flights to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai will increase passenger load by adding to their frequency and using bigger aircraft, according to the development plan which has been approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Chinese passengers to Vietnam surged nearly 50 percent to more than 4 million in 2017, accounting for nearly a third of foreign arrivals to the country.

Vietnam’s aviation development plan also involves new flights to Australia, France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, and the U.K., all of which now benefit from Vietnam’s e-visa and visa waiver programs.

The country welcomed nearly 13 million foreign visitors and raked in nearly VND515 trillion ($22.7 billion) from tourism in 2017. It hopes the new air routes will bring the number of visitors up to 17-20 million in the next two years, when tourism money will contribute 10-12 percent to the economy, compared to the current 7 percent.

By Hoang Thuy -