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Vietnam, U.S. Near Deal on Flights

October 08, 2003|James F. Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Negotiators are leaning toward a deal that would allow U.S. freight carriers direct access to Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War ended nearly 30 years ago, but that would not give U.S. passenger airlines the same access, sources familiar with the talks said Tuesday.

The deal could be announced as early as today, although two days of scheduled negotiations in Hanoi remain and a different agreement could be reached, the sources cautioned.

Officials for the U.S. State and Transportation departments, which are heading the negotiations, said it was premature to comment.

Northwest Airlines and United Airlines, a unit of UAL Corp., have hubs in Tokyo and are among the U.S. passenger carriers lobbying for access to Vietnam via stops in Tokyo. U.S. cargo carriers FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., which have hubs in the Philippines, also are seeking entry.

Kristin Krause, a spokeswoman for Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx, said, "We're hoping for open skies in Vietnam," but she could not confirm details of the talks. Other companies also declined to comment.

United probably would launch service from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Vietnam, with a stop in Tokyo. But in the negotiations, Vietnam has balked at allowing direct access by U.S. carriers because of the stiff competition it would cause for tiny Vietnam Airlines, the sources said.

Customers using U.S. airlines can reach Vietnam only by flying on the airlines' foreign code-sharing carriers that serve Vietnam. But with international trade and passenger arrivals rapidly increasing in Vietnam, U.S. airlines want direct access.

"United has long sought to initiate service to Vietnam over our hub in Tokyo," said Michael Whitaker, United's vice president of international affairs.

The two nations have held aviation talks over the last three years, without an agreement.

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