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Vietnam’s planned new Long Thanh International Airport promises to be one of the most modern, innovative and exciting gateways in Asia-Pacific, writes Heerim’s Byungkoo Lee.

Vietnam’s much-awaited new international airport is set to be built in Long Thanh, Dong Nai Province, around 40 kilometres east of Ho Chi Minh City.

Slated to open in 2025, the $16.3 billion airport will initially have a capacity of 25 million passengers per annum to ensure that the country’s economic capital is able to meet rapidly rising demand.

However, with passenger numbers in Ho Chi Minh City currently rising by 20% annually and demand expected to exceed 50mppa by 2024, this is only the beginning for Long Thanh International, which will eventually be equipped to accommodate 120 million passengers.

Indeed, its three-phase master plan outlines plans for a super hub with four runways and four passenger terminals capable of handling up to 120 million passengers by full build out in 2050.

The city’s existing Tan Son Nhat (TSN) International Airport comfortably handled 36 million passengers in 2017 and will continue to be upgraded and expanded to meet the soaring air travel demand.

But its location at the centre of a densely populated area of Ho Chi Minh City effectively rules out any significant new additions to its infrastructure and means that the government must look for capacity enhancing options elsewhere.

Luckily, the need for a new international airport was identified by the Vietnamese government a decade ago, and in 2011 it approved a master plan for Long Thanh International Airport.

Accordingly, the preparatory steps including land acquisition and funding programmes were initiated from 2012 and, in 2015, the Pre-Feasibility Study Report for Long Thanh International Airport was approved by the National Assembly as the basis for implementation of the feasibility study for Phase 1 of the project.

Design competition

With things finally moving ahead, a design competition for the new airport’s passenger terminal was held in 2016 and nine global design firms submitted entries, all of which were publicly displayed across Vietnam to allow the citizens of Hanoi, Da Nang and Dong Nai cities/provinces as well as Ho Chi Minh City to view them and pick their favourite.

During this process, the design scheme by South Korean company, Heerim Architects & Planners (Heerim), received widespread acclaim and was also evaluated and praised by experts in several design reviews.

As a result, its design was eventually chosen for the new terminal at Long Thanh International Airport.


Airport experience

Heerim Architects & Planners is well-known as the designer of Terminal 2 at Incheon International Airport, which has been named the Best Airport in the World in a host of different categories in ACI’s annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction survey almost since the day it opened.

Our participation in Long Thanh International Airport will ensure innovative design solutions tailored to the effective delivery of the project. I am very familiar with it having led Heerim’s team during the design competition and am happy to share more information about the concepts behind the new airport and its timescale for development.

Lotus petals

The design of Long Thanh International Airport’s passenger terminal was inspired by the elegance of full-blossomed lotus petals, delicately embodied to complete the curvilinear shape of the terminal.

We wanted to embrace the unique characteristics of Vietnamese culture in our design and chose the lotus flower as it is viewed as a source of inspiration because it signifies strength.

The passenger terminal will occupy a total floor area of 400,000 square-metres spread over four floors that include separate Arrivals and Departures levels and a dedicated floor for baggage make-up.

It will have 34 boarding gates that include four capable of handling aircraft up to the size of B747-800 and the A380.

While a ground transportation centre and short-term parking will be conveniently located in front of the terminal to ensure quick and easy connections for passengers and visitors.

Meeters and greeters

One of the unique characteristics of the airport experience in Vietnam, as can be witnessed today at TSN International Airport, is the large number of meeters and greeters, travellers and well-wishers who intermingle with passengers in the terminal.

This uniqueness is a part of the community-minded culture of Vietnam where people gather and share warm greetings and farewells with their family and friends. Therefore, it was essential to design the terminal with large spacious areas within and outside in an effort to embrace this cultural tradition.

While the current TSN International Airport restricts the access of greeters/well-wishers into the terminal due to limited space, the new Long Thanh International Airport is proactively considering allowing the access of visitors into the terminal.

Bigger and better

The terminal’s check-in area will comprise six check-in islands – three on each side – located inside a Great Hall, a vast space across four floor levels (Level 1 to Level 4) that is designed to delicately weave together the arriving and departing experiences of the terminal.

Themed to feature ‘a harmonious balance between technology and nature’, LED lights and natural features accentuate the Great Hall as a place of relaxation and interaction as well as the key landmark feature of the Long Thanh international Airport.

The Departures immigration area can be viewed from any direction, illuminated directly beneath the lotus-inspired skylights that exude a bright and cosy atmosphere. The scenic landscape of the Great Hall in the background should also ensure a pleasant boarding experience for travellers.

Nature and innovation

The terminal’s central concession area will be nature-friendly and offer a range of traditional and diverse interactive activities to passengers.

Its interior will be aesthetically crafted with bamboo-inspired sculptures, natural water features and multi-level decks promoting a cultural and comfortable shopping environment for all travellers.

The daylight-filled boarding lounge with geometric skylights is expected to offer a warm and relaxing ambience for passengers, while different floor finishes will be used to functionally demarcate the difference between waiting and walking areas within the lounge.

Calming colours and subtle, indirect lighting, will be a feature of the terminal’s Arrivals corridors to help ensure a warm and comforting welcome for travel weary passengers. Rhythmic advertising displays and billboards along the corridor will, however, provide a dynamic element.

Two separate immigration areas – boasting soothing wood finishes on curvaceous ceilings and immigration counters – are designed to be easily accessible and navigable in order to facilitate swift passenger journeys through the immigration process.

LED video walls displaying information about Vietnam, its culture and history as well as revenue generating advertising will provide a key feature of the baggage reclaim area.


IT and green features

As you would expect of the airport of tomorrow, the terminal will be equipped with state-of-the-art information and communications technology to ensure a quick, easy and convenient airport experience for passengers.

This will almost certainly include self-check-in and bag drop systems, automated passport control kiosks and other systems that put passengers more in control of their own journeys.

The terminal is also set to be one of the greenest in the region courtesy of a diverse range of sustainable initiatives such as double layered roofing for natural ventilation and the use of solar energy that will guarantee that it is energy efficient with a low carbon footprint.

Next step

A Japanese-French-Vietnamese Joint Venture (JV) is currently conducting a feasibility study for the Phase 1 development of Long Thanh International Airport for the Vietnamese government.

Groupe ADP subsidiary, ADP Ingénierie – the French part of the JV – has announced that it is working to a 14-month timeframe to “allow for final inspections and approvals of the project to be carried out by the Vietnamese National Assembly by the autumn of 2019”.

Heerim, as the appointed sub-consultant of the JFV JV, is scheduled to complete its basic design of the passenger terminal by the end of July next year.

Ho Chi Minh City will operate a two-airport system when Long Thanh opens for business in 2025, the new gateway effectively becoming its new hub handling most international flights and 20% of domestic services, allowing TSN International Airport to primarily serve domestic air traffic. 

About The Author

Byugnkoo Lee is the executive vice president of Heerim, leading the firm’s global aviation design practice.

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