A Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321 carrying Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and government officials made the first touchdown at the Van Don International Airport near the world-famous Ha Long Bay on Sunday morning, marking the opening of the first private airport in Vietnam.

Construction of the airport, 50 kilometers away from Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh, began in 2015.

The 325-hectare (803 acres) airport, owned by real estate giant Sun Group, costs VND7.7 trillion ($330 million) and can handle 2.5 million passengers a year equivalent to 1,250 passengers per hour. Its parking bay will have place for at least four aircraft by 2020 and seven by 2030.

It is expected to focus on services to Northeast Asian destinations like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and mainland China and Southeast Asian ones like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Cambodia.

Domestically, flights will mostly be to and from the southern and central regions.

The airport now has four gates and the number will be increased to seven by 2030.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said at the airport’s opening ceremony that Quang Ninh has much potential to attract more tourists and the new airport would help the province raise the number of tourists from current 15 million to 50 million in the coming time.

As Van Don District is home to one of the three special economic zones planned in the country, the airport is expected to open up opportunities for socio-economic development in the area, including tourism at Ha Long Bay, said Nguyen Duc Long, Chairman of Quang Ninh Province.

The private airport is among a series of infrastructure projects aimed at boosting the tourism industry, including a new expressway between Ha Long and the proposed special economic zone in Van Don and the Ha Long International Passenger Port, which were both officially operational from December 30.

The launch of the Van Don Airport made it easier for foreign tourists to touch down in Ha Long Bay, which was named among the world’s seven new natural wonders by Swiss organization New Open World in 2011.

The bay was used to film the recent Hollywood blockbuster "Kong: Skull Island", and has been raved about by many travel bloggers.

Quang Ninh welcomed 7.5 million travelers in the first half of 2018, including 2.46 million foreigners, up 14 percent from a year ago. Tourism revenues for the period rose 31 percent year-on-year to VND12.8 trillion ($546.7 million), according to official figures.

Vietnam's aviation industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years. The country served some 106 million passengers this year, a 12.9 percent increase from last year and highest of all time.

By Quy Nguyen - VnExpress.net - December 30, 2018